Staff evacuated in factory fire scare

PETRA FINER
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2014

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Early detection and quick response saved one of Fonterra's Eltham factories from going up in smoke yesterday.

A vacuum pump fire in the roof space of the Collingwood St cheese manufacturing plant was detected about 12.15pm. Damage was minor.

Eltham Fire Brigade officer-in-charge Dave Waite said crews arrived quickly and scaled the incident to a level three.

"If anything happens here, they wouldn't rebuild it so we've got to protect what's in our town," he said.

The factory is Fonterra's largest consumer and food service cheese manufacturing plant in Australasia.

Eight appliances from the Eltham, Kaponga, Stratford, Hawera and New Plymouth stations attended, with 45 volunteer fire officers on site at the height of the event.

Waite said it looked as though an electrical fault above the processing area had caused the fire.

Fonterra site manager Donald Lumsden said around 200 staff had been evacuated quickly and safely.

He expected it to have a small impact on production but said that as a site meeting was already planned for that afternoon, it had happened at the best possible time.

"While it's never a good time for it to happen, if it was going to, this was the best time," he said.

Fonterra Collingwood St produces 70,000 tonnes of processed, natural block, natural shred and individually quick frozen cheeses for domestic and export markets each year.

That includes cheese for the Mainland and Anchor brands.

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