LARGE plumes of smoke are blowing across Melbourne this morning from a toxic factory fire in West Footscray.

Loud explosions were heard around Somerville Road shortly after 5am before the factory - believed to be an old woolshed - caught alight.   The cause of the fire is not yet known but authorities say the building "is constructed of asbestos" and contains a number of chemicals creating a potent smell resembling nail polish.

More than 80 firefighters are battling the fire on Somerville Rd.

The factory fire in West Footscray. Picture: Josh Fagan
The factory fire in West Footscray. Picture: Josh Fagan

A warning has been issued for homes within a two-kilometre radius including Altona North, Braybrook, Brooklyn, Footscray, Kingsville, South Kingsville, Spotswood, Sunshine, Tottenham, West Footscray and Yarraville.

Callers to 3AW said they heard explosions this morning, with one saying: "It sounds like rolling thunder."

Property owners in the area have been warned to close their windows and turn off heating systems as winds pick up.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade said the building contains acetone and oxy acetylene, a chemical used for welding.

He said a 44 gallon drum exploded and "flew through the air" when firefighters attempted to enter.  

The building is made of asbestos.

The spokesman said "asbestos procedures" are in place and firefighters are "wetting down the material" to "minimise the exposure".  

The fire is visible from St Kilda, on the other side of the city.

Large plumes of smoke have drifted over the Westgate Bridge.  

West Footscray is located 7km from Melbourne's Central Business District and is largely industrial.

 

A number of local schools have closed. Parents of children at other schools that remain open have been sent text messages advising them to keep their kids at home if they suffer from respiratory conditions.   Authorities said there is no indication the fire was lit deliberately or that there is any suspicious activity.   West Footscray is located 7km from Melbourne's Central Business District and is largely industrial.   The fire is visible from St Kilda, on the other side of the city and as far away 32km southwest of Melbourne.   Pictures from Werribee show smoke billowing across the city skyline. Footage has been published on social media from cars being driven across the Westgate Bridge that overlooks Footscray.

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