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Hidden dangers of shed fires
On Thursday 9 April 2015, firefighters responded to a reported hay stack fire at a rural property in Oxley (near Wangaratta) just before 11.00am.
The property owner had been working at the front of his workshop cutting a steel beam with a grinder, when an errant spark landed in the next bay of the shed setting fire to approximately 150 bales of hay.
The property owner tried to douse the flames but the fire kept growing, so he had to call 000. Then turning his attention to what he could save, he moved a recently purchased skid loader, then returned for his ride on mower when the smoke and heat forced him to retreat. The property owner had suffered burns to his face and arms, but did not realise this at the time.
Brigades arrived on scene to find the 20 x 7 metre shed fully going, with thick black smoke filling the air. Firefighters had to use Breathing apparatus and “A Class” foam to extinguish the fire which took two hours to declare the scene safe. The Shed had housed a Workshop, storage area, cool room, hayshed and chicken coop, all adding to the complexity of the incident.
During the overhaul of the incident, crews noted the number of different hazards that had been stored in the shed. The shed had the usual accumulation of tools and objects that men acquire over the years, but being a tradie’s workshop this shed had a number of smaller oxygen and acetylene cylinders alongside the fuels and oils. Jerry cans of Diesel and Petrol, 20-litre drums of oils and poisons, along with petrol engine equipment (mower, chainsaw, etc) and a 30-tonne hydraulic log splitter.
Brigade members need to be mindful when attending these types of incidents as the unknown hazard is always present in the shed. Often stored in sheds, is also the hazard of ammunition or reloading equipment (including gun powder). Older sheds can contain an accumulation of pesticides and poisons, that over time can be forgotten about, but can be present in the surrounding area within the smoke.
While a number of explosions were heard upon arrival, the cause of these were not known until the overhaul phase had taken place, with a number of fuel cans ruptured and gas cylinders vented or damaged.
The incident was managed by Milawa Captain David Bienvenu, with crews attending from Milawa, Oxley, Bobinawarrah and Wangaratta Brigades.
- Attending crews should always take notice of smoke colour and density, as it was obvious that the incident was more than the hay stack fire as paged. Thick black smoke indicated the presence of fuels and oils.
- First on scene crews should undertake a full size-up of the scene, which includes talking to the property owner (if in attendance).
- Always expect that there may be alternative products stored within a shed, and that the original call may only represent a partial picture of the overall incident.
- Attending crews should always approach these styles of fires with a high level of caution due to the possibility of electricity, fuels or gases that may be present.
- In a rural area that is used for primary production, consideration of fire fighting water runoff needs to be a priority. On occasion the use of “A Class” foams and the run off or potentially contaminated waters can pose a serious headache and complications to the future operations on the farmland.
- Minimise exposure to Crew members at the scene, use PPE as per SOP’s. If contamination of clothing is a concern at the end of the incident, bag and arrange for cleaning, DO NOT place it back into private car or wash at home. Use BA if available or as a minimum issue those at the scene with dust masks.
Now... what do you have stored in your shed?