Residents evacuated amid health warning after water treatment plant fire
Residents were evacuated and health officials issued a public health warning after a large fire broke out at a wastewater treatment plant in east Christchurch.
The fire broke out at the Christchurch Wastewater Treatment Plant in Bromley on Monday shortly after 3 p.m., causing the roofs of two buildings used for filtration to collapse and forcing the site to be evacuated.
Nearly 50 firefighters battled the blaze, which sent a huge plume of black smoke across the city and left a pungent odor for miles around, triggering health warnings.
Witnesses said they heard an explosion and local residents described seeing ashes and pieces of material falling in their gardens, prompting city council to confirm there was no asbestos on them. the site to allay fears.
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A woman who lives not far from the sewage treatment plant said her house was “engulfed in smoke”, forcing her to flee with her partner and her two children and take refuge in another suburb.
The fire reportedly started on the roof of a building known as a trickle filter, before jumping onto the roof of a second similar building, said a spokeswoman for Christchurch City Council, which owns the processing plant.
Contractors were working on the roof when the fire broke out, but no one was injured.
Eight fire engines were called in to tackle the blaze, a spokesperson for Fire and Emergency NZ said, and residents living downwind of the site were urged to close doors and windows, while others were asked to close windows and doors. been asked to stay away from the area.
One person was also treated at the scene for minor injuries, a spokeswoman for St John later confirmed.
The blaze was finally brought under control at around 6 p.m., although the smoke was expected to linger for a few hours as the fire was still active. Firefighters would likely stay on site overnight, the spokesperson said.
The spread of smoke prompted the Canterbury District Health Council to issue a public health warning on Monday afternoon.
“The air around this place is smoky and it is possible that people sensitive to smoke – such as people with heart or lung problems, pregnant women, young children and the elderly – could have symptoms such as than cough, shortness of breath or eye, nose and throat irritation, ”said Canterbury’s medical officer of health, Dr. Cheryl Brunton.
Exposure to smoke could worsen pre-existing health conditions such as asthma and heart disease, she said, while people affected by smoke should close windows and doors and stay away. interior.
The smell, which some compared to burnt rubber, was so bad in the city center that an apology was issued to people inside the main library, Tūranga.
Those who live nearby have paid the price.
Bromley resident and mother of two young children, Ashley Nutley, said she and her roommate Brad Sanders fled their home around 4 p.m. after she was engulfed in smoke as Sanders suffered a stroke. asthma after inhaling it.
Nutley said the couple, who live on Rudds Road in Linwood, went out to see what was causing the smoke and that a Maces Rd policeman told them to leave their home and the area.
A fire broke out at the Christchurch sewage treatment plant in Bromley.
“She said she didn’t know if it was chemical, if it was toxic and if I was smoking to make my kids go away.”
They returned home to collect food and medicine.
“We just saw huge plumes of black smoke flooding the house and within five minutes we couldn’t close the doors and windows fast enough. We could barely see to get to our car.
Nutley said she was lucky Sanders was in the house at the time, as he had a car.
“It was lucky he was there or otherwise me and the kids would have been stuck there.”
The two men took refuge with a friend in St Albans and did not know when they could return home. “We have nowhere to go, this is where we live.”
Another Rudds Rd resident, who did not want to be named, said she was concerned about the large pieces of ash that had fallen on her yard. She came out to investigate and said her eyes were still stinging from the smoke.
The woman said her house reeked of smoke, despite all doors and windows being closed.
The blaze left the plant operating at limited capacity, and the council’s water manager, Helen Beaumont, said staff were assessing the situation. Engineers would examine the operation of the plant once the fire departments gave them access.
“We can bypass the trickle filters and that shouldn’t affect the capacity of the plant. People can continue to flush the toilet normally. “
The Christchurch sewage treatment plant treats wastewater from across the city.
It suffered significant damage in the 2011 earthquake, which meant that only about 30% of the normal daily level of wastewater could be treated.
About $ 20 million was spent to repair 1.6 kilometers of dikes at the sewage ponds.
Trickle filters are part of the wastewater treatment process. The water from the settling ponds is pumped to the top of the filters where it is evenly distributed over the surface of the filters.
Bacterial sludge grows in filters and consumes nutrients from wastewater. As the flow is pumped through the filters, the sludge is washed away as a floating solid.
Christchurch City Councilor Phil Mauger, who helped build the trickle filters, said they were filled with honeycomb plastic and water was flowing through them.
Trickle filters were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Roofs were installed in the 1980s.
Beaumont declined to comment on the work the contractors were doing when the fire started and said it was part of the fire investigation.
A woman from Carters Road – a stone’s throw from the back of the sewage treatment plant – said she saw flames escape from her garden and heard the structures “explode”.
Sarah Tobin, who lives near the site, said she was alerted to the smoke by her stepdaughter and was taking videos when the roof of the first trickle filter collapsed.
“We have been living here for a few years and the [trickling filter] the domes have always been there, and now they’re not … it’s a bit surreal, ”she said.
Tobin said the blaze appeared to be under control around 4:30 p.m. and the smoke had stopped.
Christchurch resident Jason Lopas said he passed the water treatment plant fire shortly after it started.
Passers-by told him they thought they heard an explosion before the flames erupted.
Lopas said he saw the dome of a silo collapse and black smoke like charcoal hung in the air.
“It sounded like thunder.”
“It’s huge,” he said. “It looks like an atomic bomb has hit the ground and black smoke is rising from the ground.”
About 18 tenants of six houses at the Ngā Hau e Whā National Marae site have been asked by police to evacuate their homes, said Te Runanga o Nga Maata Waka general manager Norm Dewes.
The houses are a few hundred meters from the treatment plant, with a row of tall trees on the other side of the fence separating them from the site.
Dewes said the tenants would move into the marae itself, which was further away from the blaze.