Residents of more than 100 homes in Melbourne’s north have been advised to evacuate as a massive fire continues to burn at a recycling plant at Coolaroo, producing hazardous smoke.
More than 40 people attended a relief centre at a local swimming pool overnight, after police doorknocked 120 homes in neighbouring Dallas when the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) detected a deterioration in air quality.
About nine people were treated by ambulance crews for breathing difficulties, and two men were taken to hospital in a stable condition.
The fire broke out about 9:00am on Thursday, sending smoke billowing across Melbourne’s north and west, and ash onto properties more than 15 kilometres away.
MFB Commander Brendan Angwin said it was continuing to burn through thousands of tonnes of plastics, cardboard and paper.
He said it was a difficult fire to extinguish and was likely to continue burning “for at least another couple of days”.
“There are huge volumes of fuel in there burning,” he told ABC News Breakfast on Friday.
— Paul Stacchino (@MFBChief) July 13, 2017
“It is extremely difficult to gain access to the fire. We’re really concerned for firefighter safety.”
Authorities including the state’s health department and the EPA were meeting on Friday morning to evaluate the ongoing health risks.
A community meeting will be held at the relief centre at the Broadmeadows Aquatic and Leisure Centre at 11:00am.
An evacuation warning issued overnight said: “It is strongly recommended that you evacuate now if you are located in Dallas.”
“The air quality in the warning area is hazardous as a result of smoke from the fire located in Maffra Street,” the Vic Emergency warning said.
— VicEmergency (@vicemergency) July 13, 2017
A separate watch and act warning, issued for residents in Broadmeadows, Campbellfield, Dallas, Fawkner, Glenroy, Jacana and Westmeadows, said:
“Anyone located in affected areas should take shelter indoors immediately. Close all exterior doors, windows and vents and ensure that heating and cooling systems are turned off.”
Residents who had not evacuated were advised to keep all windows and doors closed and turn off heating and cooling systems.
Authorities also warned smoke would affect Brunswick, Brunswick West, Coburg, Coburg North, Essendon, Essendon Fields, Fawkner, Glenroy, Hadfield, Moonee Ponds, Oak Park, Pascoe Vale, Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore.
However, there was no threat to the public in those areas, Vic Emergency said.
Strong winds fan flames
On Friday, MFB Commander Darren Conlin said strong winds were continuing to have a “massive impact”, and were not expected to die down until about 1:00pm on Saturday.
“It’s pushing the fire along, fanning the flames, and pushing the smoke out,” he said.
Mr Conlin said about 35 trucks and 160 emergency services workers were on the scene.
“It’s proven somewhat difficult to put out, especially during the night, so what we’ve done overnight is try to contain it into the footprint we had using our aerial appliances and large hoses,” he said.
“Our concern now is about the smoke and the impact that smoke is having on the community.
“We’ll be here for a number of days, I would imagine, and when the sun comes up and we get a bit more light and it’s safer for our operational firefighters, we’ll make more of an aggressive approach into extinguishing the fire.”
The plant is operated by SKM Recycling, which services about a dozen Victorian council areas and recycles paper, metal, plastic and glass.
There have been several recent fires at the Coolaroo plant.