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Footscray fire sends toxic smoke into Melbourne’s western suburbs

Written by on 30/08/2018

Residents were advised to shut doors and windows and switch off heating and cooling systems to prevent smoke getting into homes.

Schools have been closed and residents in parts of Melbourne’s west have been told to shelter inside as a huge factory fire sends toxic smoke into the suburbs.

Key points:

  • Residents within 500m of the factory fire have been urged to stay indoors

  • Firefighters have prevented the blaze from spreading to neighbouring factories

  • Winds have lifted toxic smoke from the fire over Melbourne’s western suburbs

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) said the West Footscray fire began early this morning and more than 120 firefighters were fighting the fire, with 30 trucks and cherry picker aerial appliances on the scene.

The MFB warned residents there was toxic smoke within a two-kilometre radius of the factory, and issued a Watch and Act message urging everyone within a 500-metre radius to take shelter indoors immediately.

Thick black smoke fills the sky above cranes, shipping containers and industrial buildings.
PHOTO: The smoke could be seen across the western suburbs. (Supplied: Kate Arnott)

Several Catholic schools in the area were closed, including St Augustine’s Primary School in Yarraville.

Nearby public schools also announced closures mid-morning as a precaution against exposure to the toxic smoke.

Footscray Primary School, which is around three kilometres from the fire, told parents it was following advice from Emergency Management Victoria to operate in “lockdown mode”.

“When arriving at school this morning, please immediately make your way inside a school building,” a message sent to parents said.

“The school understands and respects that some parents or carers may choose not to bring their child/ren to school today, within the current potential for environmental hazard.”

MFB acting deputy chief officer Ken Brown said a containment strategy to prevent the fire from spreading to neighbouring factories was working, and foams were being used to extinguish the blaze.

“The effort now will be into containing the fire completely to the building and then extinguishing it,” Mr Brown said.

He said the building contained asbestos and crews were trying to reduce the risk of fibres spreading into the air.

Thick, black smoke billows over the rooves of houses near a factory fire in West Footscray.
PHOTO: Residents in Melbourne’s west woke to find thick, black smoke in the sky. (AAP: David Crosling)

“We instigated our asbestos procedures very early into this fire, so wetting the material actually minimises the exposure,” Mr Brown said.

“As we clean up, the focus will be on making sure the asbestos is removed.”

Mr Brown said firefighters would monitor particulates in the air to assess the risk to people nearby.

The storage factory also contained acetone and a welding chemical, he said, and explosions posed a risk to firefighters when they arrived.

“We had some 44-gallon drums explode and fly through the air, which is a concern for our firefighters,” he said.

Earlier, Assistant Chief Fire Officer Rob Purcell said residents should close their doors and windows to avoid the toxic smoke from the fire.

“All smoke is toxic. This is particularly black — there’s probably some hydrocarbons in there, that’s the reason it’s the colour it is,” he said.

“It’s not something you want to be in — it would be quite damaging to your health.”

Suburbs affected by toxic smoke:

  • Brooklyn
  • Kingsville
  • Tottenham
  • West Footscray
  • Altona North
  • Braybrook
  • Footscray
  • South Kingsville
  • Spotswood
  • Sunshine
  • Yarraville

“There was really thick black smoke — from the street you could see periodically there’s been flames shooting up, and aside from the constant fireworks sound there’s an occasional larger explosion,” she said.

“I mean, there’s smoke going for kilometres and the sky is really black from the smoke.”

A talkback caller, Bruce, told ABC Radio Melbourne he watched as the toxic smoke snaked its way over his street in Yarraville.

“I’m standing in my front yard watching the plume of smoke cross over my neighbour’s house on the other side of the street,” he said.

“This morning it was a constant ‘bang, bang, bang, bang’, like someone with firecrackers.”

Smoke rises from a factory fire in West Footscray.
PHOTO: Toxic smoke has prompted a warning for residents to stay indoors. (Twitter: Alanna Askew)

Another caller, Ian, said he could see the smoke from Geelong.

“You can see the smoke and flames coming up over, building up to the height and then just plateauing out and filling into the clouds,” Ian said.

“It’s quite prominent on the skyline from Geelong.”

Somerville Road and Paramount Road were being kept clear to help emergency services reach the fire, authorities said.

Mr Brown said most of the smoke had been blown up and over the bay, and no evacuations or major road closures were planned.

“We’ll assess it as the smoke plume comes down,” he said.

“We’re looking at Geelong Road and the West Gate Freeway — we don’t plan to close that, we’re just monitoring that to make sure that the traffic is safe and that people in the area are safe,” he said.

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Source: ABC News

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