2015 April. Fire at Northampton Hardware Store (WA)

Toxic threat from Northampton blaze sparks warning from authorities


Authorities are urging people to avoid part of the small Western Australian town of Northampton in the coming days amid contamination fears following a toxic fire on the weekend.

The fire, which started at a hardware store in the Mid West town on Sunday, was finally extinguished on Monday afternoon.

Oil, fuel, paint and chemicals were burnt in the fire, which emitted thick plumes of toxic smoke, blanketing parts of the town.

Run-off from water used to douse the flames leached into a nearby creek, which has been sandbagged to slow its flow.

Shire of Northampton chief executive Garry Keeffe said the area surrounding the fire site was extremely toxic.

“That material is highly contaminated with an abundance of mixed chemicals [and] we are urging all public to remain clear of that area,” he said.

“Stephen Street will remain closed for at least the next two days to prevent the public from driving or even walking down that area and we ask the public to please be vigilant about this because the toxicity is extreme.

“This is an extreme request of travelling public and the community to stay away from this area for their own safety.”

Mr Keeffe said there had been a delay with clearing contamination from the nearby creek bed but a team specialised in contamination removal had arrived on site on Tuesday.

The company, Toxfree, which is tasked with removing the contamination, is expected to pump the chemical out of the creek.

The Shire of Northampton has closed Lions Park and Northampton Caravan Park, which are both adjacent to the fire site.

Some guests of the caravan park remain at the local evacuation centre.

Mr Keeffe said the town’s primary school, Saint Mary’s, would also remain shut today.

“Because we are unable to provide a secure notice that it’s free for them to go back there, with the toxicity level so close, and all we need is a wind change to put it straight to the school,” he said.

“We just can’t take that risk.”

The shire said residents concerned about the toxic smoke were asked to hose down their roofs, wipe exposed surfaces of any blackness and empty rainwater tanks, as a precaution.

The fire has also raised an asbestos concern as the hardware store, CT & L Woodcock, which was burnt down in the fire, was partly made of the substance.

However, the shire said the asbestos risk is low.