The Tegel factory in Christchurch has been badly damaged after a spectacular fire broke out early this morning.
The factory, in Carmen Road, Hornby, caught fire in the early hours, sending fireballs shooting into the night sky.
Witnesses from across the city reported seeing flames and smoke pour ing from the processing plant and firefighters from all over the city and beyond rushed to the scene after first reports at 4.13am.
Residents living near the factory reported hearing a series of explosions just after 4am.
One said the explosions shook her house.
``I came outside and there was huge black billowing smoke heading towards Riccarton racecourse,'' she said.
Firefighers were able to bring the fire under control within two hours, but were still at the scene late this morning dampening down hotspots.
By 9am a pall of smoke hung over Christchurch city.
The factory is one of three major poultry processing plants in New Zealand and is the only plant in the South Island.
Fire commander Rob Saunders said when firefighters arrived they were faced with a ``well-developed'' fire.
The building had no sprinkler protection. The construction of the building - of polystyrene sand wich board - meant the fire was almost impossible to fight once it began.
Firefighters decided to contain the fire and protect the surrounding buildings by dampening down any nearby flammable structures and materials.
Fire crews had identified (the factory) as one of the area's danger spots,'' he said.
Once (the sandwich board) reached its ignition temperature it started to billow very thick black smoke and turned into a running liquid type fire, burning like a flammable liquid.
Due to the nature of the material, it's extremely dangerous for internal firefighting.''
Firefighters were able to confine the blaze to the processing section of the factory, saving large portions of the Tegel facility including an area where live chickens are housed.
A Tegel worker, arriving at work today, said the 63,000 chickens were due to be killed at the factory today. Now none would be processed for sale.
Tegel is New Zealand's largest poultry producer. It is owned by Australian-based equity firm Pacific Equity Partners (PEP).
Factory a 'danger spot'
By PRESS REPORTERS - The Press | Friday, 5 January 2007
Environment Canterbury (ECan) says only the wind direction prevented the evacuation of 100 homes as the Hornby factory's polystyrene "sandwich board" walls burnt after about 4am yesterday.
The Fire Service had previously identified the site as a "danger spot". All officers on duty in Christchurch � about 60 � fought the fire but could not save the Carmen Road factory's 800sq m processing plant.
Firefighters had contained the fire by 6.30am, but continued dampening down all day. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire.
No-one was injured in the blaze as few staff were at the site.
The fire poses difficulties for Tegel, which normally processes about 50,000 chickens a day at the plant for the local market. Its two other factories are in the North Island.
The company last night said it was committed to having a factory in Christchurch, and plans were being made for dealing with the cut in processing. A meeting will be held this morning for the factory's 300 staff.
"At the moment we are focused on staff and customers and how we can help them," a Tegel spokesman said.
"We will be looking at how much is affected and hope to make decisions fairly quickly." The company had contingency plans and hoped to keep disruption to a minimum.
About 80 staff members worked in the burned area. The spokesman said some staff should return to work soon, although they might have to work in other areas or change shift patterns.
Just one truckload of chickens was at the factory when the fire broke out. They were not affected and were returned to a farm, the spokesman said.
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union district organiser John Kaye said he could not fault Tegel's treatment of staff.
"All the guys want to do is get back to work regardless of where it is, and Tegel is working to help them do that," he said. "Tegel has a very good reputation as an employer and it is trying hard to keep the guys in work."
Fire Service regional commander Rob Saunders said firefighters had previously identified the building as one of the city's danger spots.
It did not have sprinklers and was made of polystyrene sandwich board, a substance that produced a "near-impossible-to-extinguish, running liquid-type fire", he said.
The board was detested by firefighters. "It is extremely rapid-burning and extremely dangerous for internal firefighting. It produces very thick toxic smoke and burns like a flammable liquid," he said.
ECan pollution hotline duty manager Ken Baxter said if Christchurch's regular easterly wind had kicked in while the fire was raging, the toxic fumes could have prompted the mass pre-dawn evacuation of homes nearby.
"Because we had such calm conditions, the smoke plume went virtually straight up," Baxter said.
"They (firefighters) tend to be pretty conservative, and, if they took the step to evacuate, they'd evacuate the whole neighbourhood � maybe 100 to 200 homes."