Newspaper Article 1979 – Tomoana’s inferno

Tomoana’s inferno

Biggest blaze since Wattie fire in 1962

The blaze at the Tomoana freezing works yesterday was the biggest fire in Hastings since February, 1962, when J. Wattie Canneries was razed.

That fire was fought by six appliances, but yesterday’s inferno took the combined efforts of more than 40 firemen and 11 appliances as well as half a dozen ancillary machines.

The Tomoana blaze is thought to have started in a corridor outside blast freezers on the second flood directly opposite the slaughterhouse. Conecting [Connecting] elevators, which transport the carcases into the freezers, enabled the fire to spread into the floor.

The Hastings fire station was alerted by automatic alarm at 12.20pm and immediately responded with a pump and the station’s turntable ladder appliance.

The works’ own fire engine had already begun to fight the blaze when the two central station appliances arrived eight minutes later.

Within a few minutes there were eight engines at the scene. Firemen used breathing gear to combat the thick smoke and pockets of leaking ammonia.

Exploding asbestos sheeting and glass windows showered them as they battled their way into the blazing shell of the old building.

At the heart of the fire, firemen worked in cramped corridors filled with smoke. Sheep carcases carpeted the floor and sizzled in the intense heat.

An ammonia pipe ruptured at the northern end of the slaughterhouse about two hours after the fire started, but the main ammonia supply had been shut off by works staff .

The fire started about noon when most of the staff were at lunch.

Some, who were in the works canteens initially ignored the alarm but when they did begin to leave the building, smoke was already following them along corridors.

The intensity of the fire prevented many workers from recovering gear from their lockers – some who tried were turned back by firemen and company officials.

Only tiny pockets of flame remained four hours after the fire started. But the blaze had gutted the saughterhouse’s top two floors and had left behind a blackened, dripping shell

$2500 in camera gear lost

A clerk in the freezer department, Mr Warren Hibbert, lost about $2500 worth of Minolta camera gear.

Mr Hibbert was returning from lunch at Taradale when the fire broke out.

He said he could see the flames and smoke from his home.

Mr Hibbert had camera gear valued at about $4500 stored in the freezer office.

When he arrived at work, he explained the situation to a fireman. The fireman and an associate ran a set of hoses up the stairs to the freezer office, but Mr Hibbert was only able to recover about $2000 worth of his equipment.

He lost a movie camera, a camera on a tripod and a variety of lenses.

Firemen from all over HB

Fire appliances were sent from all over Hawke’s Bay for yesterday’s Tomoana works slaughterhouse blaze.

Eleven machines were in action at the height of the blaze.

The Hastings station sent three pumps, its turntable ladder and its emergency tender. The Whakatu works provided its rescue tender and Tomoana already had its fire engine in action.

A machine from Waipawa was brought up to be put on standby at the depleted Hastings station and a Waipukurau engine was on standby for Waipawa.

Havelock North and Haumoana-based appliances went to the fire and two came from Napier. One Napier engine was on standby at Hastings during the initial fire-fighting.

Portable pumps supplied water from a reservoir at the south-western side of the works and others brought water from a waste recovery plant at the northern end.

Five ambulances were on standby at the works but only two people required medial attention. They were a Hastings station officer, Mr Max Brown who wrenched his knee and Civil Defence officer, Mr Alex MacDonald, who was treated for smoke inhalation.

At one stage of the fire, firemen were concerned that part of the back wall of the old slaughterhouse might buckle out and collapse on men and fire engines working in an alleyway between the slaughterhouse and freezer.

Muffled explosions could be heard coming from the burning building throughout the fire-fighting as flames blew out asbestos walls and glass windows.

Hastings’ chief fire officer, Mr Lou Jillings, controlled the fire-fighting throughout the blaze, assisted by the Napier-based area commander, Mr Keith Leadbrook.

Drivers were ‘well behaved’

The Hastings senior traffic sergeant, Mr Henry Taylor, said he was “very pleased on the whole” with the behaviour of traffic in the area of yesterday’s multi-million dollar blaze at Tomoana freezing works.

Mr Taylor said as soon as the extent of the fire was known, 10 traffic officers were placed on point duty at various intersections around the works.

The large amounts of thick, black smoke billowing from the blazing works attracted hundreds of spectators, and traffic officers were kept busy turning traffic away from the immediate area.

Stock taken to safer pens

When the fire at Tomoana started yesterday, 1100 sheep, 300 bobby calves and 150 pigs were in the yards.

First indications were that the fire would spread quickly to the area.

The 10 yardmen on duty spent the next half an hour herding the animals to pens away from the flames.

The animals panicked as the yards filled with smoke.

However, as the fire spread through the main slaughterhouse building, it became obvious the yards were not in much danger.

Photo captions –

Above: Firemen tackle the north-western side of the old mutton slaughterhouse with high pressure hoses as thick smoke billows from the gutted top floors.

Left: A fireman treads through a thick carpet of pumice which formed the insulation for parts of the old building.

Right, (upper): The Hastings fire station’s turntable ladder in action during the height of the fire.

Right, (lower): Firemen train a high-pressure delivery on the walls of the burning block using water pumped from the works reservoir.

Left (lower): The gutted boning room showing tables littered with charred timber from the collapsed roof.

Bottom (right): Freezing workers watch from a safe distance as the fire rages through the works’ “1890 block.”

Original digital file


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Format of the original

Newspaper article

Date published

18 September 1979


The Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune


  • Max Brown
  • Warren Hibbert
  • Lou Jillings
  • Keith Leadbrook
  • Alex MacDonald
  • Henry Taylor

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