Explosions and fire force evacuations

Birregurra police officer Leading Senior Constable Laurie Allen waited yesterday for a forensic chemist to arrive to inspect the scene of a shed fire at Birregurra.

Birregurra police officer Leading Senior Constable Laurie Allen waited yesterday for a forensic chemist to arrive to inspect the scene of a shed fire at Birregurra.

A SERIES of explosions rocked the quiet community of Birregurra during a shed fire which caused up to $1-million damage at the weekend.

The blaze broke out at a machinery shed in Main Street at about 8pm on Saturday night, with exploding fuel drums creating a dangerous situation and forcing police to evacuate neighbours within a 750-metre radius.

Fire crews from Birregurra, Colac, Winchelsea, Wingeel, Barwon Downs and Birregurra took about two hours to control the blaze which destroyed a tractor, caravan and machinery valued between $750,000 and $1 million.

Birregurra police officer Leading Senior Constable Laurie Allen said the property’s owners Neil and Pat Dunnill were home when the fire started in a shed they used to store machinery for their tree-trimming business.

Sen Const Allen said an ambulance transported Mrs Dunnill, who already suffered breathing difficulties, to Geelong hospital but “the whole town” was lucky no-one died in the blaze.

He said a neighbour, who was a Country Fire Brigade member, raised the alarm at 8.08pm when he saw flames coming from the shed.

“There was a lot of machinery in the shed including a four-wheel-drive forklift and a big caravan; they’ve lost a lot of machinery,” Sen Cost Allen said.

“There were explosions for about half an hour; but there’s an underground fuel tank that didn’t explode.”

Sen Const Allen praised the quick response from Birregurra firefighters who were first on the scene.

Birregurra Fire Brigade captain Ron Brown said the incident was “pretty hairy”, with residents worried the explosions were gunshots.

“Keeping people out of the way was one of the problems because some heard the explosions and thought they were gunshots, but nobody was injured thankfully,” Mr Brown said.

“We had one of the hoses burnt before they could get any water on it because a tyre exploded and came rolling out and landed on the hose and melted it.

“The smoke was a concern because it was raining so the smoke wasn’t going straight up it was down low,” he said.

“Obviously Neil’s concerned about the huge loss and Pat’s in hospital but we were fortunate really.”

Sen Const Allen said police evacuated neighbouring properties, with about 20 residents gathering at the Royal Mail Hotel for about two hours until emergency services declared the area safe.

Royal Mail Hotel licensee Nic Napolitano said he received a call from police asking if they could help and he and his wife Julie were happy to offer coffee and a warm place to stay until the fire was under control.

Sen Const Allen said the cause of the fire was unknown but Colac Criminal Investigation Unit, with the help of a forensic chemist from Melbourne, was investigating.

Meanwhile, emergency services attended a house fire at Timboon at noon yesterday.

The owners of the house were away at the time and no-one was injured.

Anyone with information or anyone who witnessed any suspicious activity at the time of Birregurra or Timboon fires can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit www.crimestoppersvic.com.au

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