Quick response limits damage

A major fire which could have crippled Australian Paper’s Maryvale mill operations was averted on Monday, after a fire broke out on a woodchip conveyor.

A raft of onsite emergency response teams and local Country Fire Authority units responded to the blaze, which was brought under control in less than an hour early Monday morning, after suspected conveyor belt friction sparked the fire.

Australian Paper general manager corporate social responsibility Shaun Scallan said without the swift response of fire crews, the situation “could have been a hell of a lot worse”.

Mr Scallan said there were fears the fire would have escalated if adjacent piles of woodchips, which still contained some levels of moisture, caught alight.

CFA Gippsland operations officer Peter Lockwood said with the fire 35 metres off the ground, tackling the fire was a logistical challenge in itself.

Five CFA trucks and additional support vehicles were called in to assist the onsite response team, however an air support unit called in from Dandenong proved unnecessary, as fire crews we able to “knock the fire down” from a height.

Mr Scallan said while the incident had temporarily shut down pulping operations and the wood yard, contingency plans had enabled operations to recommence virtually unaffected.

“The main objective is to keep the place running whilst we effect the repairs to the conveyors belt and rollers,” Mr Scallan said.

While primary investigations into the blaze have been completed, repair costs and times for the conveyor, which handled a “significant portion of the workload” remained unclear.

Mr Scallan said as of yesterday excavation and trucking equipment, brought in to replace the conveyor belt operations were keeping up with the workload.