Residents living near an out-of-control warehouse blaze in Melbourne are being warned about toxic smoke spewing over the city’s west, as more than 140 firefighters are gaining the upper hand and containing the fire.
MFB deputy chief officer Ken Brown said crews had contained the perimeter fire about 1pm, several hours after the fire started at 5am on Thursday.
“This morning, the fire was fully involved in the whole building. We’ve managed to contain the perimeter fire and we’ve got a fire burning within the centre. We’re now working on a strategy to knock the fire down,” he said.
Crews worked in rotation to minimise their exposure to any toxins and by mid-afternoon teams were attacking the fire from aerial units.
A specialist fire engine is due to be brought in a bid to minimise further smoke plumes before a weather change arrives at 4pm.
“We’re pulling all stops out to drop the smoke down to minimise the impact on the community by 4pm. Then we’ll work through the night. We’ll be here overnight fully extinguishing this fire until tomorrow,” Mr Brown said.
Earlier, State Member for Footscray Marsha Thompson announced the closure of 11 schools at midday and parents were being contacted about picking up their children.
“The decision has just been made to close 11 government schools as a precaution against the industrial fire in West Footscray,” Ms Thompson said.
Another seven Catholic schools and up to 27 childcare centres were also shut by mid-morning.
Explosions were heard coming from the Tottenham building on Somerville Road since 5am, and a ‘watch and act’ alert was issued for suburbs including Footscray, West Footscray, Yarraville, Kingsville, South Kingsville, and Sunshine because of smoke concerns.
Giant plumes of thick acrid smoke have spanned across the western suburbs, and can be seen up to 50 kilometres away in Geelong throughout the day.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade said the fire began at a former wool storage shed, where there had been a series of minor explosions.
Residents within a two-kilometre radius of the blaze are urged to stay inside, shut their windows and turn off air-conditioners to avoid the smoke, which is affecting up to 12 neighbouring suburbs.
One local resident told The New Daily she woke to loud explosions about 5.30am.
“It sounded like fireworks and I heard sirens coming in waves,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I opened the blinds and saw this massive cloud of black smoke across the horizon,” the resident said, who lives almost two kilometres away.
Mr Brown said that when crews first arrived they had no idea of what was inside the building.
“When crews first arrived, we had no understanding of what was in the building, so we’ve spoken to the owner and the occupier and we believe there is some acetone and some oxy-acetylene,” he said.
“There’s been some other explosions that we’ve had. We’ve had some 44-gallon drums explode and fly through the air, which is a concern for our firefighters.
“Oxy-acetylene is welding equipment and acetone, the best way to describe it, is nail polish remover.”
One worker at a nearby business reported hearing “a lot of explosive noises”.
“It’s definitely pretty severe,” Dion Amato from Leading Car Care Centre told AAP.
More than 100 #MFB firefighters are currently battling an out of control blaze at a factory on Somerville Road in West Footscray.
— MFB (@MFB_NEWS) August 30, 2018
The fire is understood to be at the former site of Highland Pallets, which is no longer based at the factory.
At this stage the cause of the blaze is not yet known.
Police and ambulance crews remain on the scene and there are no reports of injuries.
Eyewitness accounts include one dramatic photograph taken by a Tasmanian farmer on his way to Melbourne airport.
He posted on Twitter that it made his flight “a bit different”.
Makes my flight from Tassie a bit different. pic.twitter.com/mtqWPwoFyg
— Lucas (@RucasJ) August 29, 2018
MFB assistant chief fire officer Rob Purcell told ABC Radio Melbourne they were putting “as much water on this and surrounding properties as we can”.
“It’s very hard for us to get close enough to get inside the building. We wouldn’t even attempt that at the moment,” he said.
“Our main goal here at the moment is just to protect the surrounding factories, make sure that we don’t lose any other buildings.”