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‘All smoke is toxic… avoid at all costs’ Dire warning issued as Melbourne factory fire continues to burn

| 30.08,18. 06:23 PM |

‘All smoke is toxic… avoid at all costs’ Dire warning issued as Melbourne factory fire continues to burn

Blaze in West Footscray, Melbourne will take 'hours to contain.' (Nine )

The perimeter of a huge factory fire burning out-of-control in Melbourne has been contained as firefighters continue to battle the roaring blaze.

"All smoke is toxic," said MFB Acting Deputy Chief Ken Brown earlier.

"If people are inside the plume they shouldn't be there. They should avoid at all costs. Close your air conditioning, close your windows. If you can go somewhere else, even better," he told reporters.

The black clouds began after a factory caught fire in Somerville Road in Tottenham just after 5am, and have stretched across neighbouring suburbs such as Footscray and Altona.

"This morning, the fire was fully involved in the whole building. We've managed to contain the perimeter fire and we've got a fire burning within the centre. We're now working on a strategy to knock the fire down," Deputy Chief Brown said.

"We've still got some quite active fire in the middle of the fire. We've had no reports of injuries and we're really making sure we focus on firefighters' welfare."

The inferno is being fuelled by Oxy Acetylene, which is used in welding equipment, and Acetone, which is found in nail polish remover.

The chemicals are stored inside the factory and regular explosions have been seen and heard throughout the morning, with a number of 44-gallon drums erupting.

The Metropolitan Fire Service (MFB) says the building’s roof and walls contain asbestos, but that is not a major concern at this stage, because the dangerous asbestos is being kept wet to avoid it becoming airborne.

Both the MFB and the EPA are on scene assessing the air quality on a regular basis, and have advised people who are downwind of the fire to stay indoors with their windows closed until further notice.

Deputy Chief Brown says more than 140 firefighters are on scene, but its been a challenging task due to the chemicals involved.

“We’ve got our scientific officers and our HAZMAT technician experts in there, monitoring the atmosphere around the fire to make sure our firefighters aren’t exposed,” he said.

“The affected area is only the immediate area where the firefighters are working.”

Ambulance Victoria is on site and firefighters are being rotated to minimise their exposure to toxins.

The MFB says the dangerous period regarding asbestos is more likely to come after the fire has died down, which isn't expected to be for some time.

“Wetting down the (asbestos) material minimises the exposure. So as we clean up the focus will be on making sure the asbestos is removed,” Deputy Chief Brown said.

“We’ll do particulate monitoring, not just for asbestos but we will monitor the particulate matter, to make sure of the impact.”

There is no sign of the fire slowing, with the copious amounts of fuel likely to keep the blaze going until the early afternoon. Deputy Chief Brown says they've contained the perimeter of the fire, but there is still an active fire in the middle.

The aim is to get the smoke under control by 4pm. The fire however, will burn into the night.

Nearby Somerville road and Paramount Road are closed, but it’s unlikely that any other major thoroughfares like the West Gate Freeway will shut.

Fire investigators were at the scene within 90 minutes of the fire starting, but there is nothing to suggest it is a suspicious blaze.

Firefighters are considering evacuating residents if they continue to struggle to contain the blaze, while some surrounding schools have made the decision to send students home.

The Metropolitan Fire Service has issued a community warning for residents within a two-kilometre radius of the blaze.

Those with breathing difficulties are urged to keep their windows and doors closed.

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