Firemen hospitalised with burns, staff off work after mammoth Ashburton feed factory blaze
Two firefighters remain in hospital with burns and staff have been told to stay home after a massive blaze ripped through a South Canterbury factory.
About 50 firefighters from 19 crews from as far away Timaru and Christchurch spent hours containing the blaze at SealesWinslow’s factory on the Hinds Highway, near Ashburton, on Monday night.
Half of the 5000-square-metre building was ablaze when firefighters arrived at the scene about 7.45pm. The fire was under control by about 10pm on Monday, but 12 hours later deep burning fires were still causing issues and smoke continues to billow from the site.
One firefighter received burns to the legs, the other to the neck, from embers. They were still in hospital. A third firefighter who suffered burns has been discharged.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) South Canterbury assistant commander Mike Johns said two fire investigators were on site trying to get to the bottom of what caused the fire. It was expected fire crews would remain on site all day.
“We are sort of in clean-up mode now and exposing a lot of hot spots and extinguishing them using a digger,” Johns said.
What was originally called in as a fire in pallets about 7.30pm turned out to be one of the biggest fires Mid Canterbury’s volunteer firefighters had faced in recent years.
“It was a large scale fire; they’re not very common in this size,” Johns said.
“We’re unsure of the cause at the moment but we’ve got two fire investigators here delving into it and crews from Christchurch and Timaru are supporting the volunteer staff from the area.”
Accessing water to douse the flames was the biggest issue on Monday night.
“We had to source our water out of irrigation ponds and used a lot of tankers.”
Johns said he arrived at the scene about 8pm.
“It was an inferno. It was a huge scale structure fire and all we could do was pour water on it in the hope of containing it and stopping it from spreading,” Johns said.
“We managed to stop it getting into the rear third of the building.”
SealesWinslow has been wholly owned by Ballance Agri-Nutrients since 2013.
“There were two staff on site at the time of the fire, and they are both safe”, Ballance spokesman David Glendining said.
The plant employs 18 staff.
“We will be assessing the site over the next few days, but at the moment we are asking our staff to stay at home,” Glendining said.
He said reports suggesting the plant was “destroyed” were wrong.
“There are a number of buildings that we will be assessing for damage, but the primary damage is to the packing and storage shed.”
With the majority of Mid Canterbury’s volunteer fire brigades on the scene on Monday night, crews were brought in from as far as Fairlie to man the district’s empty stations.