FIREFIGHTERS were today called out to a huge steaming pile of wood chippings at Southampton docks.

Crews from St Mary’s and Redbridge were called to the King George V Dry Dock in Millbrook Road just before 2am this morning to reports the 25m high pile was smouldering.

But firefighters arrived on the scene to find heat from the decomposition of the wood had caused it to start steaming rather than catch alight.

Ian Jacobs, general manager of Solent Stevedores, said: “This is in fact a normal process that occurs when the surrounding air temperature drops, which happens commonly and presents no fire danger.

“At the request of the fire service we arranged for a crane to remove woodchips from the top of the pile to confirm it was only steam, which it duly did.

“At no stage was there any fire risk and the temperature inside the pile this morning is between 13C and 18C, which is a normal, safe level.”

He added temperatures inside the wood chip piles are tested daily with a heat probe. He said wood is regularly moved to prevent the build-up of heat due to the decomposition process.

Last month about 5,000 tonnes of scrap metal caught fire at King George V Dry Dock. Smoke from the fire, which took days to burn out, could be seen from across the Solent.

Developers want to build a controversial 100-megawatt biomass power plant on nearby site that would burn up to 800,000 tonnes of wood fuel a year.