$15 MILLION TOMOANA BLAZE
But new complex working Monday
The $15 million blaze which wiped out the old slaughterhouse block of the Tomoana freezing works yesterday afternoon will not cause major unemployment.
The top two floors of the four-storey complex were gutted, destroying the six-chain mutton slaughterhouse, the beef slaughterhouse and pig slaughterhouse.
Also lost were the beef boning room, beef chiller, carton room, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries inspectors’ amenities room and other amenities rooms.
But in the words of the general manager, Mr Michael Sanders “the saviour of the situation” regarding mutton is the new slaughterhouse where trials have just started.
However, this is linked to the old complex for steam, water and for the rendering and fellmongery departments and can not operate until these connections are restored.
Fortunately, the follow-on departments have not been badly damaged and the company is aiming to have one mutton chain working in the new complex by Monday.
As planned, this will build up to six chains as the season progresses.
Not so fortunate is the beef house, which will have to be rebuilt and is not expected to be in operation until next February and March, in time for the 1980 season.
This means about 200 men and women working in the beef house, boning room and follow-on departments, have lost their jobs until then.
But Mr Sanders said there was obviously a colossal clean-up job in the fire-damaged section, as well as a big demolition programme.
“The aim of the company is to ensure much of that employment is offered to the existing workforce,” he said.
The names of the workers in that category were being taken today.
Tomoana holds the licence for the abattoir kill for butchers’ shops in Napier-Hastings, Waipukurau-Waipawa and Taupo.
Through the Hastings City Council, the company is arranging to have this handled at the neighbouring Whakatu and Pacific works.
There is not expected to be any shortage of meat in butchers’ shops.
“The kill butchers had at Tomoana up until lunchtime yesterday is available to them today and they are coming to pick it up.
Tomoana also has stocks of frozen meat available if necessary.
None of the 900 people working at Tomoana were injured in the blaze, which is thought to have started in the freezer passages which link the freezer with the main slaughter block.
Mr Sanders said two mutton chains were operating and up to 1000 mutton and bobby calf carcases would have been destroyed.
More than 200 bodies of beef in the chillers were damaged by water and smoke, and another 60 in the boning room were burnt.
Mr Sanders said property damage would amount to $10 million and stock $5 million, but this was only a “rough” assessment.
The chairman of the meat and wool section of Hawke’s Bay Federated Farmers, Mr Tim Plummer, said today it was fortunate the new mutton complex was soon to be commissioned.
“Without it, the farming industry would be in real strife,” he said.
Mr Plummer said beef numbers were at present down in Hawke’s Bay but he hoped the works would be able to make other arrangements for beef killing until operations could again be started. Mr Plummer was to visit the works today.
“Textbook exercise”, claim firefighters
A “textbook exercise” in which a big fire was well contained and no-one was seriously injured.
That was the description of the Tomoana Freezing Work’s blaze from Hastings’ Deputy-Chief Fire Officer, Mr Angus Duthie.
From an initial call at 12.20pm, the brigade had its first pumps at the fire within three minutes and its total requirement of eight appliances and 50 firemen at the scene within 15 minutes.
The Waipawa brigade was sent to relieve at Hastings and the Waipukurau brigade was placed on standby at Waipawa. Napier appliances also went to Hastings.
“It highlighted the co-operation between the brigades,” said Mr Duthie today.
The fire started in the freezer chamber at the northern end of the complex, fortunately at the lunchbreak when most of the building was empty. “Otherwise we would have had problems,” said Mr Duthie.
The fire whipped through a conveyor tunnel across an alleyway to the main killing block on the fourth and top storey.
This floor, which housed six mutton killing chains, the beef house, beef chillers, boning and carton room and the marshalling areas, was “completely gutted”, said Mr Duthie.
The third floor was also damaged beyond use but the two bottom floors escaped major damage.
Arriving three minutes after the alarm was sounded, firemen found the building was already a “blazing inferno”.
Soon after they arrived, the fire had raced to the southern end of the killing block and was bursting out the opposite end from where the fire started.
The brigade’s aim was to “surround and extinguish” said Mr Duthie and eventually 17 jets were directed on to the fire.
In order to contain the fire in its area of origin, six hoses were concentrated on the freezer block across the alleyway. Firemen also worked at both ends and the middle of the killing floor to ensure the fire did not spread down shafts to the lower floors.
One of the biggest concerns was an ammonia leak. But works engineers started “sucking back” liquid ammonia from the system and what was not retrieved mostly burnt.
Once the heat of the fire died however, the ammonia would not burn and became a gas.
Several firemen had to be treated for ammonia inhalation, but none was seriously hurt and they mostly returned to their tasks after a cup of tea.
Firemen with breathing apparatus worked on the fire until after dark. About 7.15pm the brigade’s turntable ladder was called back to reach a hot spot.
The brigade was still at the scene today. Fire Safety Officer G. Woolhouse and Mr K. Henderson, a fire safety staff officer from the fires service’s Wellington headquarters inspected the building to determine what caused such rapid acceleration of the blaze.
Gear, cash left as workers flee
“There’s thousands of dollars in our money and clothing up there,” “I think we’ll have a long holiday”.
These were just two of the comments heard from Tomoana freezing workers as they stood and watched their workplace devoured by flames yesterday.
There was also talk of the bomb scare at the works 12 days earlier.
Many of the 800-odd workers said they had kept playing cards or eating lunch when the fire siren first sounded – they had had so many false alarms lately they thought it was another one.
“As soon as we saw the smoke we got out,’’ one worker said.
Most of the workers went home in their ‘‘whites’’. All their clothing, money and in some cases car keys had been left in the men’s and women’s amenities blocks.
Some of the workers said they had had hundreds of dollars in wallets locked in their lockers.
High vantage points on the new part of the works were quickly taken and some workers stayed watching the fire for nearly two hours.
Other people who had gone to the works out of concern for relatives working there were asked to move out on to the parking areas while foremen made a count of their staff.
At one stage it was thought a man was missing but it was later discovered he was not.
As a precautionary measure union officials and main office staff removed all important records and documents from the administration buildings.
A mini hospital was set up outside the administration buildings and extra supplies of oxygen were brought in, in case they were needed.
Photo caption – THE EXTENT of the devastation caused by yesterday’s fire at the Tomoana freezing works is graphically illustrated in this striking aerial picture taken today by The Daily Telegraph’s Rich Marshall. The fire started in the freezer block, left foreground, and raced across an adjoining tunnel to the top floor of the old slaughterhouse complex. (Other pictures, Page 3).