Massive chemical fire in Canberra

Fire-fighters have finally brought under control and have contained a huge chemical fire at a factory in Canberra.

The fire was contained within the factory building in Mitchell and crews are preparing to attack the fire with foam, the ACT Fire Brigade said.

However, the fire was still producing toxic smoke over the suburb. Authorities have announced a 300 metre exclusion zone around the factory. Atmospheric tests of the smoke plume have so far found almost undetectable levels of phosgene, which is contained in the by-product of the substance being burned, PCB. Phosgene can cause irritation to skin and eyes, sore throat, nausea, headaches and dizziness, vomiting, chest pain and breathing difficulties.

Testing will continue throughout the day but the ACT Fire Brigade believes the risk to residents is low.

All schools in Canberra’s north have been closed for the day as a precaution.

ACT Emergency Services Agency chief, Mark Crosweller, said early fears about a potentially toxic plume had ‘abated immensely’.

The entire suburb of Mitchell was evacuated this morning amid fears of toxic smoke as fire crews continued to battle to bring the fire under control in a building in Mitchell after being called around 2am, ACT authorities said.

As per the reports, explosions began around midnight, sending huge fireballs into the sky. Residents in northern Canberra suburbs say their homes shook with each explosion from the fire in the industrial suburb. Explosions from the factory blasts were heard across several suburbs.
“We heard the explosions and went into panic mode,” one of the evacuees said this morning.

People living within 10km of the factory in suburbs including Lyneham, Hackett and Watson have been warned by emergency services not to use their ducted heating or air conditioning to prevent drawing toxic black smoke into their homes.

The ACT Fire Brigade has confirmed the fire is burning in mineral oil. Therefore, fire-fighters have been using water and foam.