12.15pm: The NSW environment watchdog says initial tests indicate there’s no need be concerned about air quality in the Port Kembla area following a fire in an 80-metre chimney.
Large plumes of black smoke and flames could be seen billowing from a BlueScope Steel station on Monday afternoon, raising concerns about toxic chemicals in the air.
However the impact on air quality was expected to be ‘‘relatively low’’ based on the results of initial monitoring conducted by authorities, an Environment Protection Authority spokesperson said.
‘‘This monitoring did not indicate anything of concern, however we are following up with BlueScope’s on-site monitoring this morning,’’ the spokesperson said.
‘‘This was a relatively short lived event and we understand that while community was impacted by smoke early in the fire - the late southerly changed helped to blow smoke out to sea.’’
The EPA will continue their tests on Tuesday while fire crews and engineers determine the stack’s structural integrity and whether it needs to be demolished.
The chimney’s steel frame has remained intact despite the collapse of its internal fibreglass casing.
10.40am: Fire crews will work with engineers to determine what caused the fire in an 80-metre chimney at Port Kembla, and if the stack needs to be pulled down.
Flames billowed from a BlueScope Steel gas cleaning station on Monday afternoon.
The internal fibreglass casing collapsed but the steel frame stayed intact.
‘‘The 80-metre stack is still standing, it stayed up over night,’’ NSW Fire & Rescue Superintendent Paul Johnstone said on Tuesday.
‘‘It was a fierce fire too.’’
Fire crews managed to stop the fire spreading to 20,000 litres of ammonia that is stored on the site.
A 100-metre exclusion zone was set up around the fire.
Large plumes of black smoke and flames could be seen billowing out of the structure from suburbs away, which raised concerns about harmful chemicals in the air.
Supt Johnstone said crews will spend the day reassessing the structural integrity of the chimney.He reaffirmed there were no reports of asbestos or chemicals released from the fire.
Firefighters will work with BlueScope engineers who will give expert advice as to what will happen with the stack.
‘‘Today we will investigate the cause of the fire and the stability of the chimney.’’
Heavy rain on Monday helped firefighters extinguish the blaze.Dozens of firefighters remained at the site on Monday night to mop up.
Were you on site at Port Kembla's Bluescope Steel last night and see the fire firsthand? We'd like to talk to you! Call 4221 2207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
EARLIER: A 80-metre fibreglass chute at BlueScope caught fire on Monday night, sending heavy black clouds of smoke across Port Kembla.
Emergency crews were called to the sinter plant at BlueScope about 5.30pm to find the chute was burning.
Employees near the fire site were evacuated.
Four fire crews attended the scene and a 100-metre exclusion zone was set up around the chute stack.
The chute, which was surrounded by a metal framework, was well alight and had partially collapsed by 6pm.
‘‘Being fibreglass, it burnt very quickly,’’ said Fire and Rescue NSW Wollongong Inspector Greg Houston.
He said the chute was still smouldering well over an hour later so fire crews wearing breathing apparatus covered it with a foam solution to extinguish the flames and stop fibreglass fibres from going airborne.
Parts of the stack remained attached to the supporting steel framework and continued to burn.
Insp Houston said fire crews also poured water onto the framework.
‘‘Our concern was, with the intensity of the heat from the fire, that it may have affected the integrity of the structure,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s now regained its integrity as its cooled and it’s no longer under threat.’’
Crews also ringed nearby stores of bulk ammonia and activated charcoal to ensure they didn’t ignite.
BlueScope engineers also turned on inert gas to stop the fire from spreading internally to other parts of the plant.
The fire attracted many onlookers who parked along the side of the road and got out to take photos, despite the heavy smoke and a smell like burning rubber or plastic hanging over the area.
By 7.30pm, winds had blown the smoke towards the city, with Wollongong residents complaining of a burning plastic smell.
Ambulance crews were also at the site, at the corner of the steelworks bordered by Old Port Road and Stockpile Road.
No-one was injured in the incident, the cause of the which was being investigated.
It is not known at this stage whether the fire will cause any delays in the steelworks’ operations.