Hunt finds propane close to fire site


Five months after the fatal Icepak coolstores fire at Tamahere officials have begun the hunt for other coolstores using the highly flammable propane refrigerant – and found one just a few kilometres away at Ohaupo.

Blueberry Country co-owner Greg Furniss told the Waikato Times that his company had switched to propane on the recommendation of the Icepak owners with whom he shared the services of a refrigeration engineer.

The hunt for propane-using facilities and the find by the Department of Labour (DOL) conflicts with earlier statements that it “was aware that hydrocarbon refrigerants were and are being used in the industry generallyā€¯.

The Waikato Times story also raises questions about how long propane has been in use as a refrigerant.

Furniss told the paper Blueberry Country had been using propane for five to seven years.

At the time of the changeover “about five to seven years ago, the refrigeration industry was told that the widely used, yet safer, Freon R22 gas, would be phased out because of its impact on the ozone layer,” the Waikato Times reported.

“We just had a stage where we were putting in some new equipment and the question was raised and we took that opportunity to get out of the R22,” Mr Furniss said.

Furniss said the DOL had “identified for us some risks that we hadn’t seen … and those risks I think are most satisfactorily dealt with by just changing the gas.”

The company would now use a gas called 404A, which was similar but not as efficient, he said.

NZ Fire Service spokesman Scott Sargentina said the Labour Department alerted the service last weekend that propane was being use on the Blueberry Country site, the paper reported.

He said firefighters wanted to be informed who was using it and see adequate signs were in place.

Mr Sargentina said propane was “certainly top of the mind when any fire crew turns out to a coolstore fire”.

The Waikato Times also reported on the DOL’s letter to Tamahere Forum which showed that it had no idea the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) had made a $60,800 grant to Icepak in June 2007 to assist with a trial of hydrocarbon refrigerant or propane at its Waharoa coolstore.

6 thoughts on “Hunt finds propane close to fire site

  • September 25, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    When the Fire Service called the key holder (Icepak) why did the keyholder not tell them that L P G
    was in use? This in itself would have saved life and limb of the Firemen.

  • September 22, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    Well Steve, I will set out some of the facts for your information.
    I feel betrayed that LPG was used and the neighbours had no idea.
    Our home suffered some $35000.00 in damage.
    We allowed our property to be over run by fire trucks,tankers, environment waikato
    trucks etc. they entered at the rear where we cut fences and trees to make it happen.
    We had to leave our house over a six week period as the rotting and smoke was overpowering
    Not a single person from ICEPAK could even say sorry or thanks for the help!
    I could expand this but if you would like to give me a call I would be happy to give you an
    insight in what the history is.

  • September 22, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Steve, A lot of Tamahere people have taken a jaundiced view of Icepak’s presence in their neighbourhood since its plant blew up there causing one of the biggest fires in NZ history. It’s not surprising that Arnold Koppens has, as one of the closest neighbours and whose house and other property were damaged by the explosions. Arnold Koppens does have a history with the site see here
    He, like many of us, is puzzled by Greg Furniss’s statement reported in the Waikato Times that Blueberry Country changed to propane five to seven years ago on the advice of Icepak. Up until that statement the understanding was that Icepak trialled propane at its Waharoa plant in 2007, assisted by an EECA grant, and that the Tamahere plant, using Freon, was used as a comparison. So, it’s a bit hard to get factual information. It’s natural for conjecture to arise while we await the various reports into the disaster.

  • September 22, 2008 at 12:31 am

    Why is Mr Arnold Koppens so so anti Icepak?
    Mr koppens seems to attack Icepak at every opportunity his views are somewhat exaggerated and his factual information of the store is rather limited.

  • September 6, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Just reading about the blueberry coolstore and how amazing that it took almost five months to realize after being told by D O L that propane was dangerous. “yeah right” As I understand the timeline Icepak changed in 2003 and blueberry country at about the same time. That is 5 years ago, but still does not explain how the waharoa got the EECA grant in 07 when they were using propane at Tamahere and would have known full well of the safety requirements needed at tamahere At least a year before it all blew up.

    The common thread among all of this is the ‘Refrigeration Engineer’ and the Icepak Chiefs.


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