Warehouse fire sparked by rubbish pile

17:47, Dec 15 2013
Port of Timaru warehouse fire
HOSING DOWN: Firefighters work to extinguish smouldering rubbish at a warehouse at the Port of Timaru.

A rubbish heap is thought to be the cause of the large fire that tore through a warehouse at the Port of Timaru yesterday morning.

The fire was reported at 11.20am by a passerby.

Fire safety officer Kevin Collins said by the time firefighters arrived smoke from the Fraser St building was visible across the city. "It was well under way, but we managed to get it under control quickly."

The warehouse is owned by Timaru District Council Holdings and leased to Envirowaste. The site was used as a collection point for rubbish.

The roof of the building looked to be extensively damaged, but it was unclear how much of the building would need to be repaired or replaced, Mr Collins said.

A firewall had protected the section of the building occupied by RSL Landscape Construction.


Andrew Shears of RSL said he was grateful to the fire service.

"We have about $200,000 worth of equipment stored in their half of the warehouse. I could see the smoke in the distance, so it was a panicky drive across town to get here," Mr Shears said.

"It was a lucky Black Friday escape."

Mr Collins believed a load of rubbish from Washdyke company Light Leathers had been dumped in the warehouse earlier that morning.

"The building was empty last night, so all the rubbish here was this morning's work.

"There was a load from Light Leathers. They have a process where the pelts are treated. To get them to tanned leather they put them through wheels that spin, and they just shave the hide," Mr Collins said.

"We've had a few fires out there as a result of that process. Occasionally you might get a spark off the machinery, which goes into the shaving dust and it can sit in there for quite a number of hours."

Another possibility was dust and fibre from Light Leathers self-igniting.

"What was dropped off is actually what we call ‘blood-dust'. It's a known material that's capable of causing spontaneous ignition, it doesn't need any external heat source to ignite."

Mr Collins likened the situation to compost that can get very hot because of microbial action. "That process could have occurred here."

Fire-fighting units were brought in from Pleasant Point, St Andrews and Temuka, and all off-duty staff were called in.

Envirowaste South Island manager Kevin Edgar said fires were a "hazard of the industry".

A pile of wool off-cuts from the wool scourers became hot and self-combusted in the same warehouse about 18 months ago; it was caused by the same microbial action Mr Collins referred to.

The Timaru Herald