Authorities respond to factory fire
Firefighters are gaining control over a factory fire in Melbourne’s west that has burned for nearly a week.
The West Footscray warehouse was filled with tin, asbestos and other materials including 44-gallon drums containing grease, oil, acetone residues and aerosol cans, and was to be the new home of an aluminium recycling operation before last Thursday's explosive fire.
Alerts were issued for 21 suburbs including Altona, Brooklyn, Footscray, Kingsville, Newport, Port Melbourne, Spotswood, Sunshine, Williamstown and Yarraville.
Eleven public schools, 38 childcare centres and eight Catholic schools in the affected areas were closed last week.
The firefighting effort was hampered by the fact the warehouse was divided into two by shipping containers.
Firefighters ended up having to borrow equipment from nearby Mobil refineries to try to extinguish the chemical-fuelled fire.
On Monday, Melbourne Fire Brigade incident controller Peter Thomas said crews were using the equipment to spray water further into the centre of the giant facility and extinguish the remaining hotspots.
“We're hopeful we'll be able to achieve it today,” he told ABC radio.
Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has conducted water quality tests from the nearby Stony Creek and issued a warning against consumption of fish taken from the area, to avoid contact with the water and to keep pets from swimming in it.
“The Emergency Services effort in bringing the blaze under control, maintaining public safety and providing information has been incredible,” said EPA’s Dr Cathy Wilkinson.
“EPA will continue to support the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), provide technical support to them and make sure the community is kept up to date with the results of our testing.”
EPA will join with WorkSafe on a targeted blitz of inner western Melbourne industrial premises. The joint agency effort, which will also include MFB officers, will be targeting businesses and ensuring potentially dangerous chemicals are being stored correctly.
The inspections will be in the area around the factory fire, and work through the surrounding industrial areas in suburbs including West Footscray and Braybrook.
EPA’s focus will be around ensuring appropriate bunding is in place around chemicals, fuels and other hazardous liquids; and ensuring appropriate stormwater controls are in place as well as keeping an eye out for sites that are receiving and/or storing a combustible recyclable waste material.
Where inspectors identify workplaces that are not complying with regulations they will issue enforcement notices ordering the issue to be rectified.
“This is a joint effort. The regulatory authorities will work very closely together on this blitz which will not only check the sites around the fire area but send a very clear message to all industry that compliance is a safety matter that is taken extremely seriously,” said Dr Wilkinson.
“Where we find instances of non-compliance we will work with those businesses to bring them back into compliance but they could also face fines or even prosecution in the courts if they fail in their obligations.”
Melbourne Water staff have been onsite at Stony Creek since last Thursday, removing millions of litres of affected water from the creek.
Pumps were installed at three sites along Stony Creek, as well as a number of booms to capture as much debris, oil and foam as possible.
Signage is in place at Stony Creek to advise the community to avoid coming into contact with the water. This includes not allowing pets to enter or drink the water in the creek.