The waste storage business at the centre of an inferno that has spewed thick, “acidy” smoke over Melbourne was holding nearly three times the amount of waste it was permitted to keep when its licence was suspended last month.
- Witnesses have described thick, black, “acidy” smoke blanketing the area
- Authorities are warning people nearby to close doors and windows
- Workplaces have been evacuated and five nearby schools are closed due to the smoke
More than 175 firefighters have been battling the blaze — which is likely to burn for several days — at Bradbury Industrial Services in Campbellfield after a fire broke out about 6:40am.
Stu, who works as a welder at a business next door, told the ABC he had been told an accident involving a forklift sparked the blaze.
“There was a forklift [which] accidentally pierced a drum which then fell, and obviously a steel drum on concrete, created a spark and with the fumes, one can only assume that it ignited,” he said.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) said about 30 people were believed to have escaped the building at 16 Thornycroft Street before firefighters arrived.
One worker was seriously burnt in the fire and another was taken to hospital in a stable condition with an eye injury.
Authorities issued a watch and act warning shortly after the fire started and are urged anyone in Broadmeadows, Campbellfield, Coolaroo, Dallas and Somerton to “take shelter indoors immediately”.
A downgraded warning issued at 1:19pm told residents smoke from the fire could still be in the area and to limit their time spent outdoors.
Hazardous waste collection and storage company Bradbury Industrial Services is the business listed at the address of the blaze, and its sign is clearly visible on the building in aerial vision.
The company provides storage and disposal services for hazardous and industrial waste, and specialises in treating solvent and other waste from paint and related industries.
Business licence suspended after inspection
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) said in a statement last month that it had suspended Bradbury Industrial Services’ licence to operate on March 15 after an inspection by officers.
The officers found the company was “storing more waste than permitted under its EPA licence” and that storage containers were not adequately labelled.
The EPA’s Damian Wells said the business was permitted to store 150,000 litres of hazardous materials and had been found with 400,000 litres at the inspection.
He said an inspection by an officer yesterday found about 300,000 litres of materials at the property.
“We believe this has been very poor form by the duty holder,” Mr Wells said.
He said the removal of the materials from the premises involved a lot of preparation due to the volatile nature of the chemicals involved.
“These are highly flammable materials and in terms of moving them, it’s quite a significant operation,” he said.
Smoke pollution ‘very low’
The EPA said it had set up air-monitoring devices in the area and despite the fire, smoke levels were low.
“Immediately south of the fire we picked up elevated smoke levels and we have undertaken monitoring in the residential areas,” the agency’s Andrea Hinwood said.
“The good news is that the levels are very low, so even though we saw a big plume, levels are good.”
She said authorities were working to prevent contamination of the nearby Merlynston Creek and urged people to stay away from the creek down to Maffra Street.
Nearby Somerton Road was closed between Sydney Road and Pascoe Vale Road due to the “thick smoke” that blanketed the area as the fire raged this morning.
Several state schools in the area were affected by the blaze, with some closed by the Department of Education and Training “as a precautionary measure”.
Students who had already arrived at some schools were kept inside due to the smoke warnings.
Fire ‘contained’ but likely to burn for days
More than 175 firefighters and 40 fire trucks have been battling the blaze.
MFB chief officer Dan Stephens said flammable liquids stored at the premises had caught fire, creating running fuel fires which crews managed to prevent from reaching a liquified petroleum gas (LPG) container next door.
“As it stands the firefighters have been able to contain the fire to the premise, there will be some heat and smoke damage to the surrounding premises … but as it stands we have managed to contain the fire.”
Mr Stephens said the Campbellfield fire was of a “similar scale” to the inferno which tore through a West Footscray warehouse in August last year and sparked major public health warnings.
“Whilst we very quickly have managed to surround the fire and bring the fire under control, this incident is likely to last for a number of days,” he said.
He said he could not provide specific detail on the business operating at the premises but said the MFB and other agencies had been “aware” of the premises before the blaze.
Mr Stephens said public agencies were doing everything within their power and capacity to manage the risk posed by businesses storing hazardous and flammable waste.
“We are doing everything we can, but there is a limit to that which we can do, because there are very, very significant numbers of these premises out there,” he said.
“Ultimately it is the responsibility of the owners and occupiers to adhere to the regulations and clearly, those that don’t will be subject to the full force of the Victorian law.”
Statements from workers in the building would be taken by MFB investigators before they determined the cause of the blaze, Mr Stephens said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the Government was prepared to make regulatory changes if an investigation into the fire revealed shortcomings.
Thick, ‘acidy’ smoke blankets area
ABC Radio Melbourne caller Vivek said he could see the fire from a nearby petrol station and the smoke was “really, really bad”.
“It’s just like a big line of fire trucks … you can see the fire, not only the smoke,” he said.
Another caller, named Roy, said he was less than a kilometre from the fire and said he and 50 colleagues had been evacuated from their workplace.
“We could just smell it when we left our factory, it’s going south, the wind’s blowing it south but it’s [the smoke] is just black,” he said.
Julie, whose business was also evacuated, said she could hear explosions as firefighters continued to battle the blaze about 8:30am.
She described the smell of the smoke as “chemical, like fumes … acidy”.
“It’s really thick, black smoke, really dark,” she said.