Communities living near Melbourne’s industrial areas could be sitting on a ticking time bomb, with authorities conceding the business at the centre of West Footscray’s inferno had not been on their radar for storing dangerous goods.
The huge blaze caused thick, black, toxic smoke to billow across the western suburbs last Thursday, and was described by authorities as one of the biggest infernos the city has seen in decades.
WorkSafe executive director of health and safety, Paul Fowler, told a community meeting at Footscray Town Hall on Thursday night that his authority had been unaware there were dangerous goods being stored in the warehouse.
“The police are investigating that and we are liaising with police there,” he said.
“From our point of view, it wasn’t registered with us as a dangerous good site as was required… so we weren’t aware of dangerous goods being on site.”
A blitz on industrial sites in the West Footscray area in the wake of last week’s fiery inferno has identified almost 70 dangerous goods breaches.
The WorkSafe and EPA blitz on 78 sites, sparked by community fears following last week’s fire at a near Somerville Road in Tottenham, identified 68 contraventions relating to the handling and storage of dangerous goods.
The MFB had been alerted to potential risks at the fire site in recent months, but had been unable to access the property.
An inspection by Maribyrnong Council gave the building the all-clear in terms of meeting its structural safety requirements.
Victoria Police’s superintendent Therese Fitzgerald told Star Weekly that the Arson and Explosive Squad’s investigation is continuing, but the state of the site means it will be some time before they can carry out the work needed to determine whether the fire was suspicious.
Emotions ran high at the community meeting on Thursday night, where residents spoke of ill-health and confusion around the risks to public safety throughout the week since the fire.