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Factory's future in doubt after fire

Published: 10:49AM Wednesday June 22, 2005 Source: RNZ/One News

The fire is out but the pain is just beginning for residents of the small Golden Bay community of Takaka.

Ten appliances and 65 firefighters attended a blaze at the Fonterra dairy factory, which started shortly before 5pm on Tuesday and took several hours to contain.

Amid concerns toxic chemicals would be ignited, producing deadly gas the town was evacuated.

The residents were soon back home, but their is no commitment yet from Fonterra to rebuild the plant and that has locals worrying how they would cope without their biggest employer.

The Takaka factory was closed for the off-season when the fire occurred. It made cassein, butter and milk powder and employed 96 people.

It is one of the company's smaller plants processing up to 1.5 million litres of milk a day from 200 farms in the Golden Bay region - about 1% of Fonterra's national processing capacity.

But the factory is the biggest employer in Golden Bay and the biggest single business and Fonterra says it can't yet say whether it will rebuild it.

It is the second Fonterra factory in the area to burn down in the past year, following a fire at the Koromiko cheese plant in Tuamarina.

A spokesman for Fonterra says it is too early to judge the effects of the fire, but he is sure Fonterra will be able to cover its commitments.

Dairy Farmers New Zealand chairman Frank Brenmuhl says the company has a good track record of moving milk around when it needs to and it probably would take Golden Bay's milk to its nearest plants for processing or down to Westland.

Brenmuhl says of most concern is the future of the workers employed at the factory.

Debris and hotspots are still being hosed down by firefighters. Water is being taken from a stream and firefighters are working alongside the Tasman District Council to prevent contamination from the cassein and milk.

Around 870 tons of cassein are amongst the debris following the fire and it all has to be moved from the wreckage of the dairy factory. It will be moved to nearby fields where it will be dampened down before being trucked away.

Fire safety investigators say it could be weeks before they know what caused the fire.