Fire fallout: ‘Don’t touch the water’

The chief scientist at the Environmental Protection Authority says waterways leading into the Yarra River and surrounding some of Melbourne's most expensive homes is toxic and should not be touched.

Andrea Hinwood issued the warning to stay out of the water after Victoria's biggest fire in years covered the city's west in smoke and flooded creeks and rivers with chemicals.

"(For) anyone going down near Stony Creek, in the Yarra River where it comes out, possibly down into Hobson's Bay around Williamstown, Spotswood and around those areas, please don't go in the water, don't put your hands in it," Dr Hinwood said.

Melbourne Water advised residents that fire water containing chemicals from the huge blaze had run directly into Stony Creek.

Large drums filled with grease and chemicals exploded on Thursday.
Large drums filled with grease and chemicals exploded on Thursday.


The EPA issued an alert on Thursday for people in those areas to avoid discoloured water in particular.

It follows a large turnout at Footscray Town Hall where irate residents who spent the day indoors and away from the acrid smoke expressed concern about the ongoing health impacts of the West Footscray factory fire.

The fire is still burning this morning after more than 100 firefighters spent the night trying without success to obtain access to the middle of the blaze. They were unable to knock down flames and say the fire could continue to burn for several days.

Smoke filled the air at 5am on Thursday when large explosions sparked the fire at the industrial warehouse on Somerville Rd. Drums containing grease, oil and acetone residues exploded and the warehouse, made from asbestos, went up in flames.

The enormous amount of smoke spread to residents in Altona, Altona East, Altona Gate, Altona North, Brooklyn, Footscray, Kingsville, Newport, Port Melbourne, Seaholme, Seddon, South Kingsville, Spotswood, Sunshine, Tottenham, West Footscray, Williamstown, Williamstown North, Yarraville.

Inspector Ken Brown said people should avoid the smoke at all costs.

"All smoke is toxic," he said. "If people are inside the plume they shouldn't be there. They should avoid at all costs. Close your airconditioning, close your windows. If you can go somewhere else, even better."

There's some concern this morning that showers could force smoke closer to the ground. On Thursday, locals who were affected told the smell of the smoke was intense.

Lia Fasciale from neighbouring Maribyrnong said she left the house and was confronted by the toxic plume.


A commercial plane flies past the fire on Thursday. Picture: Nicole Garmston
A commercial plane flies past the fire on Thursday. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Ms Fasciale said she hadn't seen the news and was unaware that a fire was blowing smoke from the next suburb in her direction.

"The smoke cloud was insane. It (smelled) like a burnt plastic or chemical smell. I didn't necessarily think smoke or fire. It made my eyes water like crazy."

A resident in Yarraville who did not wish to be named said he was worried about the smoke and wanted to leave, but had no car.

He phoned police to see if they could escort him out of the area but had his request denied.

"Do you know how dangerous this fire is to small children?" he said.

"My daughter is breathing this crap in."

The more than 50 schools and childcare centres that closed on Thursday are reopening this morning.

The blaze was declared under control late on Thursday night after more than 17 hours, but a watch and act warning remains in place for 19 suburbs in Melbourne's west.

The fire filled the air with smoke on Thursday. Picture: Nicole Garmston
The fire filled the air with smoke on Thursday. Picture: Nicole Garmston

But the MFB on Friday said air monitors were confident conditions were safe for the community.

"There was a large plume yesterday which hung quite high in the atmosphere, and that protected the community for most of the day," the MFB's Trent Curtin told reporters at the scene.

"There were some very short periods where some smoke came to the ground, but overnight conditions have improved significantly."

Water run-off into Stony Creek remained a "significant issue" and people should stay away from it, Mr Crisp said.

"There's a lot of material that's gone in there and that's actually where people will pick up the smell of the acetone that's come out of the building."


- with AAP

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