Fire crews will remain overnight at the scene of a large fire at a waste facility in Onehunga, Auckland, that has been burning since around 1pm today.
Large flames and billowing smoke could be seen for several kilometres earlier today as emergency services responded to the massive fire at the Green Gorilla Waste Facility on Victoria St.
Police began evacuations of commercial buildings immediately downwind from the fire on the street about 3.45pm.
Two helicopters that assisted ground crews throughout the afternoon ceased flying about 8.15pm, but Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) says crews will remain overnight.
“Ground crews will work on rotation through the night to attempt to extinguish the fire. The fire remains contained, but is still active,” Fenz said in a statement at 9.30pm.
Fresh crews would come in the morning, with operations expected to continue at least through most of the day Thursday.
“There will continue to be smoke in the area this evening, and likely into the morning. Anyone in the vicinity is advised to keep out of the smoke,” Fenz said.
Fire investigators would return to the scene on Thursday to ascertain the cause of the fire.
“Fire and Emergency will work with the owners of the evacuated commercial properties nearby as to when they will be able to return to their premises,” the statement said.
Victoria St would remain closed throughout the night and on Thursday morning.
During peak hour, Auckland Transport also identified heavy traffic causing delays on SH20 and Onehunga Bridge due to the emergency response. Bus routes 36, 38 & 309 were delayed up to an hour in both in both directions.
One motorist on SH20 described the traffic as “real bad… bumper to bumper and just crawling along”.
A Fenz spokesperson said crews were alerted to a well-involved fire in Onehunga just after 1pm.
“There are 22 crews on the ground working to contain the large fire that is 60 metres by 50 metres in size. One structure is on fire and a second structure is being threatened by fire,” Fenz said at the peak of the blaze.
“Households and workplaces in the area of the fire should close windows, doors and ventilation systems.”
Two helicopters were also in the air fighting the fire.
In a statement, Green Gorilla said nobody was harmed in the fire at its state-of-the-art commercial and industrial waste processing facility.
“At Green Gorilla, the safety of our community, employees, and the environment remains our utmost priority. I want to reassure everyone that no one has been harmed as a result of this incident,” Green Gorilla CEO Elaine Morgan said.
The cause of the fire is currently under investigation, Morgan added, but the immediate focus was ensuring the safety of staff and those in the surrounding area.
“We are working in partnership with FENZ and Auckland City Council to respond to the fire and mitigate any potential impacts on the community and environment,” Morgan said.
“I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the dedicated Green Gorilla staff for their swift response to the fire incident. Through their adherence to safety protocols and best practices, we have thankfully avoided any injuries. The health and safety of our team and the community are always our top priorities, and their commitment to these principles has been exemplary.”
Morgan also said Green Gorilla services, including our four transfer stations, will continue to operate as normal.
The Green Gorilla facility in Onehunga processes more than 10,000 tonnes of commercial, construction and demolition waste each month.
This includes separating recyclable materials such as metal, wood, rubble, cardboard, paper, aluminium cans, steel, and plastic bottles, the company explained. The wood chipping operation converts treated and untreated wood into useful products such as biofuel, landscaping chips, and animal bedding.
“I understand the concern and impact this incident may have on the local community and environment. Green Gorilla is committed to working closely with local authorities, emergency services, and relevant stakeholders to address the situation swiftly and effectively,” Morgan said.
Local Auckland Councillor for the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Ward, Josephine Bartley, posted on her social media that the “source of the fire appears to have been a woodchip pile”.
“The fire appears to involve two buildings on the same address. The are currently no welfare concerns we are aware of.”
Video taken of the fire, which the Herald understands is at Green Gorilla on Victoria St, shows massive flames visible from about 1km.
The smoke is visible from more than 20km away in Milford on Auckland’s North Shore, a photo from a Herald reader shows.
An employee at Green Gorilla told the Herald he didn’t see how the fire started but everything quickly caught alight.
“We were in the workshop when it happened, so didn’t see it, but heard that a bit of timber had started it,” the employee said.
He said all employees had been asked to evacuate the facility alongside all other businesses on the street due to smoke.
“It’s huge! We can see the flames from Norman’s Hill Road over a kilometre away!” one person wrote on a local community page.
One man at work in the neighbouring suburb of Ōtāhuhu said the fire had “massively increased” in the 15 minutes he had been watching.
People on social media said the flames were six to nine metres high, while others have reported seeing the fire from the nearby Southwestern Motorway.
A staff member at a nearby business said they could see a large plume of black smoke coming from the building.
”The flames have risen considerably and are well above the building we can see which is about 8-9m high.”
“It’s quite windy here, a south westerly wind is blowing.”
St John said it responded with one ambulance and two rapid response units on scene but has not treated any patients.
A police spokesperson said they are on the scene assisting with traffic management.
Auckland Transport (AT), meanwhile, said due to a fire the road is closed at the intersection of Neilson St and Victoria St in Onehunga.
“Avoid this area or expect delays with diversions in place affecting all traffic, including bus services,” AT said.