Oil tank explosion sparks fire at Te Puke sawmill

A 2000-litre hydraulic oil tank exploded at a Te Puke sawmill yesterday afternoon _ sparking a fire that took firefighters more than an hour to put out. Chief fire officer Glenn Williams said the oil tank exploded at 12.15pm yesterday at Pukepine Sawmills on Jellicoe St. “The top exploded off it and had oil burning around the tank,” he said.

“When the lid first blew open it caused spectacular flames.” Nobody was hurt in the fire because staff had the day off due to the public holiday. An employee of the sawmill saw the fire from his home and called emergency services, before trying to put the fire out with a hose.
 
He contained it but was unable to put it out. Mr Williams said the fire was probably caused by workmen who were welding above it the day before. He suspected some of the hot welding material had dropped down on some combustible timber which had caught alight and then spread to the oil tank. Firefighters needed to bring in foam to extinguish the flames.

Pukepine Sawmills general manager Jeff Tanner said he suspected that the area wasn’t “watered down’ after work had finished, which is a procedure when welding at the sawmill. “It was a rather spectacular explosion,” he said. “A fire at the sawmill is our worst nightmare so we definitely don’t want to let this happen again.” There was minor damage to the area due to there being minimal flammable material in the area.

Fires have occurred at the sawmill in the past, including one in October when a fire in a hydraulics cabinet activated the sprinkler system. Mr Tanner said they had never had a fire as big as yesterdays. The sorting area is not operational today and affects 20 employees. He believed the fire caused between $10,000-$20,000 in damage to the building.

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