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Sawmill blaze sparks backup call

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, fire crew from Wairarapa, and the Hutt Valley teamed up to fight a machinery blaze at the Junken New Zealand [JNL] sawmill in Masterton.

Fire emergency services were alerted at 2am of the fire, with brigades from Masterton and Carterton initially attending.

After the situation was assessed, the call went out for extra backup, with support arriving from the Hutt Valley.

Masterton Fire Station Officer Gary Nielsen said the fire started inside the sawmill but somehow got transferred through a duct to an extraction unit.

“Because it’s woodchip, it gets a spark in it or heat from the plant,” Nielsen said.

“The sparks then go through with all that fine product, and then set it on fire in the extraction unit.”

Nielsen said the fire was likely to have been caused by friction, or a hot piece of timber creating the initial sparks.

“Something’s gone wrong with the machine and ignited the stuff in the ducting and transferred into the extraction unit,” Nielsen said.

Although there were nightshift workers at the mill at the time of the fire, Nielsen said there were no injuries.

Due to the nature of wood processing, there was an increased fire risk, which was why the call for backup was warranted, Nielsen said.

“Wood processing inherently has higher risks involved with it for one reason or another so our response for that building is more than what it would be for other buildings.

“If we don’t know, we’re better off working to the worst possible scenario until we can verify it’s under control.”

Citing Masterton’s 1965 Plastics Factory explosion, which killed four of 10 staff, Nielson said wood dust poses a heightened risk of explosions.

“That’s what I mean by a dust explosion, we just have to be careful,” Neilson said.

Karl Burling, the mill’s general manager, said JNL has a very collaborative approach to working with local fire crew.

“Particularly with Wairarapa team at Fire and Emergency NZ, they’re very proactive and understanding of some of our needs when we do have a fire, so we work very closely with them to both minimise and mitigate the risk of fire,” Burling said.

Crew often visit the mill to learn how to best manage fire safety without disrupting operations, he said.

“It’s nice to know that they’re on board, and we’ve worked together to make sure there’s a really efficient way of dealing with any issues.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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