20 firefighters attend blaze at wood pellet plant

BY JARED MORGAN
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2009
EARLY MORNING START: Firefighters at a blaze at a Southland wood pellet factory early yesterday morning.
BARRY HARCOURT/Southland Times
EARLY MORNING START: Firefighters at a blaze at a Southland wood pellet factory early yesterday morning.

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A rural mail contractor who noticed the glow of a fire coming from a Southland manufacturing plant was credited with saving it.

Invercargill Fire Service station officer Greg Koppert said the contractor spotted the blaze at Southern Wood Pellets on Makarewa-Branxholme Rd and dialled 111 about 3.30am yesterday.

"It certainly had the makings of a much bigger blaze," he said.

Senior station officer Alan Goldsworthy said when firefighters arrived smoke was coming out of the roof, which was heavily smoke-logged.

As the building was locked, fire crews wearing breathing apparatus forced entry on the south and north sides of the building by cutting through doors and found one big fire that had spread, creating hotspots throughout the plant.

At its peak, 20 firefighters from Wallacetown, Invercargill and Kingswell on seven fire engines attended the blaze, Mr Goldsworthy said. Damage was confined to an internal wall in the plant.

Firefighters remained at the scene checking for further hotspots until about 9.30am.

Southern region fire safety officer Barry Gibson finished his examination of the site yesterday and was looking at several possible causes of the blaze, which was started after wood shavings and sawdust ignited, but there were no suspicious circumstances, he said.

Wood shavings and dust were a volatile mix and it was possibly only the actions of the contractor that saved the factory from becoming the site of a large fire, he said.Maureen Erskine, who runs the business with her husband Aven, said the blaze had come as a shock, and had forced the temporary closure of the factory.

However, she and her husband planned to have the company, which manufactures pellets for pellet-burning fires, open again as soon as possible. The factory was fully insured, Mrs Erskine said.

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