Mass evacuation just avoided

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Three coolstore fires in a little over three months highlights the dangers of such facilities – widespread throughout the country – to those who fight the fires and, of course, to their neighbourhoods.

All three coolstores fires – Tamahere, Katikati and Hastings – threatened other buildings. Only the April fire at the Icepak coolstores at Tamahere proved fatal but the Hastings blaze last week was a close run thing according to firefighters.

A mass evacuation of Hastings homes was narrowly avoided because firefighters were able to stop the massive fire from also engulfing a highly flammable six-tonne ammonia plant just metres away, reported Hawkes Bay Today.

In an understatement, Fire Service incident coordinator Chris Nicoll said had the ammonia, which is used as a coolant, gone up the city would have found itself in a “spot of bother”.

“Our main concern was the ammonia and its explosive nature,” he said.

“The gas would have been consumed, but the explosive blast would have been quite considerable.

“We concentrated on trying to isolate that ammonia plant from the fire.

“We were up against it a little bit because the ammonia plant was downwind from the actual building on fire.”

He said the fire was fully involved by the time the first crews arrived and accelerated faster than any he had encountered before: “I’ve never seen a fire spread so quick.”

Hawke’s Bay deputy fire chief Des Irving said if the ammonia was released “we would have been evacuating forever”.

Hastings senior station officer Bruno Saathof said all coolstore fires burned extremely rapidly and in this case it was a styrene foam insulation that caused it to become so vast so quickly.

The cause of the fire is expected to be known this week.

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