Concerns have been raised about chemical storage near residential areas in the wake of the West Footscray factory fire which sent toxic smoke over Melbourne’s west and shut down more than 50 schools and childcare centres on Thursday.
Emergency services were called to reports of a fire at a warehouse near the corner of Somerville and Paramount roads just after 5am on Thursday to find it fully alight.
An MFB spokeswoman said the fire was about 14,000 square metres in size and was being fuelled by a range of materials, such as acetone drums, cannisters and scrap metal.
Victoria Police’s arson squad will investigate the cause of the fire, which has been deemed suspicious.
It took more than 17 hours to bring the inferno under control but the fire was expected to continue to burn for days.
On Friday, a watch and act message remained in place for Altona East, Altona North, Brooklyn, Kingsville, Newport, South Kingsville, Spotswood, Sunshine, Tottenham, West Footscray, Yarraville.
The Environment Protection Authority and Melbourne Water on Friday warned people to avoid Stony Creek and Cruickshank Park in Yarraville due to toxic water run-off entering local waterways.
Residents and traders on Thursday night were briefed by the MFB at two community meetings held at Footscray Town Hall.
A Yarraville resident told the meeting that factories in the industrial precinct in the area were a “time bomb waiting to happen”.
“This area of Brooklyn and Tottenham is a no man’s land – anything goes,” he said.
“These woolstores were built back in the 1950s. They have been sublet and there’s a whole lot of spurious items in there. We don’t know.
“Why is no one monitoring the activities of these companies operating in this area? It’s a disgrace.
“I’d like the government to audit all these factories that are operating without control.”
Former Greens MP and West Footscray resident of 30 years Colleen Hartland is calling for inspections of industrial warehouses, saying self-regulation does not work.
“What appears to have happened last night is there was a tenant moving in and a tenant moving out and they had things in there like shipping containers – they think, to separate the two parts of the warehouse – and there were old oxy acetylene tanks and drums that were being recycled but it probably had been burning for some time before the first fire alarm went at 5am,” she said.
“Just because we live in an industrial area doesn’t mean that our safety should be put at risk.
“What’s WorkSafe’s inspection regime? When’s the last time they went through these warehouses?”
EPA chief environmental scientist Andrea Hinwood said authorities were trying to contain the run-off but people were being warned not to walk along the edge of Stony Creek, eat any fish from it or let their dogs swim there.
The EPA is also warning people not to eat fish from the lower part of the Maribyrnong River, from the West Gate Bridge.
“EPA officers are continuing to monitor air quality in the western suburbs with mobile equipment deployed to keep residents informed,” Ms Hinwood said on Friday. “With rain expected, the air quality could deteriorate.”
Friends of Cruickshank Park secretary Sue Vittori said it was “outrageous and disappointing” to see Stony Creek experiencing yet another pollution incident.
“Yesterday, there were officials wearing heavy duty gas masks monitoring the creek where it passes through our local park,” she said.
“The water had turned a sickly blue-green colour due to run-off from the factory fire.
“This is not the first time we’ve seen the creek change colour and we fear it won’t be the last.”
MFB Acting Deputy Chief Officer Ken Brown said the brigade had worked with the EPA to monitor air quality.
“It’s not the asbestos particles, it’s the particles of dust that sit in there, what we call PM2.5 particle matter,” he said. “That’s the product of combustion that are actually burning in the cloud.”