DACRE St Mitchell reopened 5 days after the outbreak of one of the largest industrial fires ever seen in the ACT. A chemical plant caught on fire, some 200 metres away, early on Friday morning past, prompting evacuation of the entire commercial area of Mitchell.
Our onsite Manager was awoken at 2am Friday morning with orders to evacuate. He had little time to grab personal belongings, let alone any other items.
The fire raged on all day with the declaring of a 10 km exclusion zone around the area. Canberra woke up to breaking news of a major fire, with graphic images of a huge fireball, shot by the media from Wells Station Road, with Capital Self Storage in the foreground, one could have assumed the site was on fire as well.
Hundreds of calls and emails flowed in during the course of the days whilst the site was closed, customers rightly concerned about the welfare of their stored goods.
Capital Self Storage Management was not in a position to comment on the fire as access to the area was denied. No check of the premises could be made. At no time did the ACT Authorities make any attempt to contact Capital to give us any news on our property.
“We took the decision to contact all of our customers by SMS and email on Friday” Ian Oliver, Director said. We were not concerned as we could see our site was not affected and our systems that run our sites are web based so we had full access to all of our customer records off site and at our main branch in Phillip. In conjunction with our web partners, we updated our web site and posted regular updates on Facebook and Twitter.”
“We would like to thank the many hundreds of callers and emails asking if we, our property and more importantly, our staff were OK – we were surprised and touched at the many calls asking about our Manager”, Oliver said.
“The flow of information to landholders by the ACT authorities was nonexistent, Government relying on the emergency services to put updates on their website. We were able to communicate to every customer and as ratepayers, I would have expected them to be able to do the same. Not every landholder is glued to a computer looking for updates! An SMS or a call to update affected landholders was in order. It never happened. A spokesman for the Police said, “We only talk with the Media…”
Once the fire was extinguished, the cleanup of the fire site commenced, with Dacre St remaining closed. A number of statements were made claiming there was no toxic outcome or effect but the road and our business could not trade for over 48 hours, creating frustration with customers.
A quote from the ACT Emergency Website:
“ESA and EPA who have conducted comprehensive sampling and testing are now able to confirm that the test results have conclusively shown no contaminants or toxins from the fire within the Mitchell exclusion zone”. 18th of September.
The road reopened at 3:30pm on 20th and we advised all of our customers again that we would reopen. ACT Emergency services website last update was the 18th at 8:58pm, hardly updated with the latest news and in reality Dacre St and especially the surrounding roads could have opened much faster, reducing the knock on effect to Mitchell traders.
Calls asking us about “what is stored” at Capital were received, with the implication that we could be storing flammable goods. Capital, like most Self Storage sites have a stringent policy on the storing of flammable goods, each of our buildings at our 4 sites are fire rated, each having major fire separation in accordance with ACT and local building regulations.
Unlike some multi story Storage sites in the ACT with unit sprinklers, Capitals spaces are fire rated and should a fire break out, building separation and firewalls combined with fire hydrants would contain any fire outbreak, minimizing any losses. Fires in Self Storage are extremely rare.
“We have learned a lot about the disruption to our business from the closure of roads that grant access to our sites. We will further fine tune our response systems, should an incident like this happen around us again.” Oliver said. “Whilst the disruption to our business at Mitchell has been high, inconveniencing over 900 customers the diligence of our staff, our up to date web based systems and with our capacity to communicate to our customers fast, we have been able to recover as fast as possible, something the ACT authorities could learn from.
It’s not hard to have a database system and communicate news to affected residents and landholders. I am pretty sure that if we didn’t pay our rates they would find us….” Oliver said.