News & Media

Fonterra Stanhope factory fire 2014 – case study

By: Duncan Russell

Category: Operational Information

  9.29 AM 1 December, 2015

Location: General

Views: 1885

The ‘Learning from incidents’ section of Brigade magazine includes case studies of incidents researched by Fire & Emergency Management. Here, we analyse the .

A case study is an explanatory story based on a real-life incident that looks at what happened and why it happened. The aim is for people to learn from the case study so they improve their decision making in time-critical situations.

If you have any observations or initiatives you would like to submit from your own experiences in emergency management, visit the Observation Sharing Centre:


Stanhope is a small dairy farming community in northern Victoria in District 20. The Fonterra Stanhope factory is one of the largest milk processing factories in Victoria, producing a range of specialty cheeses.

In 2012, $6.5 million was invested to upgrade the site to keep up with demand. On 16 December 2014, a large fire damaged the roof of the cheese plant which could have had significant economic and social implications for the community.

Incident overview

At 12.30am on 16 December 2014 a fire was reported at Fonterra Stanhope. The site was immediately evacuated with all personnel accounted for and no one injured. Fire trucks from Stanhope, Tatura, Cohuna, Echuca, Girgarre, Kyabram, Rochester and Rushworth brigades attended the fire, plus the ladder platform and PE van from Bendigo and the Shepparton hazmat vehicle.

The fire was contained by 4am and crews remained at the scene for some time to identify any remaining hotspots using thermal imaging cameras. Fire investigators attended at 9am to determine the cause.

The investigation found the fire was caused by a failure of compressor switchboard components as a result of an electrical storm that hit the area causing a number of power interruptions. There was significant damage externally and internally, with the roof collapsing over the compressor room and cheese room.

The damage disrupted two plants for two shifts and directly affected 20 employees, however the plant was able to return to production relatively quickly. There was no effect on the 260 farmers who supplied milk to the site because the milk was redirected to other parts of the Fonterra supply network.

Lessons identified

Importance of pre-plan for premises The brigade regularly attended the site and was familiar with the layout. The preparation of pre-plans benefited all parties at the incident, and helped build an understanding of the facility which minimised the damage to the property.

Prompt dispatch The immediate dispatch of multiple brigades to the incident contributed to an effective initial attack which limited damage.

Fire safety system The knowledge (from the pre-plan) that the site had numerous tanks to compensate for poor town water flow and pressure meant the firefighters had adequate water.

Notification of fire There was no monitored fire alarm system, but the emergency plan dictated early notification of the fire to Triple Zero.

Escalations based on fire/chemical risk The fire was very difficult to fight. Firefighters had to constantly be aware of the ammonia gas that was on the premises. Hand-held ammonia gas detectors were used by the firefighters.

Communication Links with key personnel at all levels were crucial and successful during and after the incident. The relationship between CFA and Fonterra greatly helped all those involved to understand the risks and develop a plan to recover quickly.


This incident was a team effort which included numerous brigades and Fonterra staff. Although there was substantial damage, the good work from all those involved contained the fire to one section of the facility which allowed production to continue at full capacity, and minimised the economic impact on the community. The potential impact of this fire on the local community was well understood and is a great example of working as one within the community.

Last Updated: 08 April 2016