15 Sep 2015

Wiri explosion: 'It was like a bomb'

8:00 pm on 15 September 2015

A man killed in an explosion at a South Auckland business was flung across the road and into a car yard, workers at a neighbouring factory say.

Police and emergency services were called to the scene of the explosion at a hazardous recycling disposal business in South Auckland.

The lid of the gas tank.

The lid of the gas tank. Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

The Fire Service said the large explosion happened in Bolderwood Place, in Wiri, about 1.35pm. It was heard at least 5km away.

They said staff did not believe there was any danger of further explosions, or wider danger to the public.

The man killed was a contractor who was on top of a fuel tank at Salters Cartage in Wiri when it blew up. Another man was injured.

Salters Cartage director Ron Salter said the oil tank exploded, and the company was now following all protocols, and working with emergency services.

Damage to a car parked across the street from factory, 20m away from the gas tank.

Damage to a car parked across the street from factory, 20m away from the gas tank. Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

One man who works in the area said his colleagues told him the man's body ended up in a car yard across the road from where the explosion happened.

St John's Ambulance treated one person with minor injuries on the scene, as well as an asthmatic.

Counties Manukau police spokesperson Shelley Nahr said details were slim as police could not use communications equipment near to the factory due to the risk of another explosion, but confirmed that one person was dead.

A spokesperson said the police would not release the dead man's name and age until tomorrow, giving immediate family time to notify the deceased's extended family.

Police said a number of staff members from Salters Cartage are at the Manukau Police Station were giving witness statements.

They said the cause of the explosion was still unknown, and an investigation with WorkSafe New Zealand would continue.

Auckland Transport said roads were closed around Bolderwood Place and Roscommon Road in Wiri.

Explosion at Wiri

Photo: RNZ/Mohamed Hassan


A local worker said he had just looked out at the factory when the explosion happened. He said it appeared someone had been on top of the tank doing some welding when the event took place.

Twitter users reported hearing a huge noise.

A witness told Radio New Zealand the explosion was "big - it was like a bomb".

Clive Foster, who owns a tyre shop across the road from where the explosion occurred, said he heard one "absolutely earth-shattering explosion".

"The shockwave roared through my tyre shop just about knocking things flat ... saw all the bits sailing away up in the air," he said.

"I stepped down, had a look, and one of those humungous big oil storage tanks was no longer there. There was nothing there, there was just a singed ladder."

Mr Foster said no one was hurt on his premises but he often saw workers walking around in the yard opposite, which stores oil for recycling.

One of the first firefighters at the scene, Senior Station Officer Tony Searle, told Checkpoint they heard the boom of the explosion from the Papatoetoe fire station.

"We were at the other end of Papatoetoe, probably 4-5km away, and we could actually hear the explosion from where we were, so it was a fairly significant explosion."

Police car in Wellington

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

EPMU speaks out

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union expressed its condolences after the worker's death.

The union said the workplace was not affiliated with it.

However, it said every worker should be able to return home safely at the end of every shift, and urged WorkSafe to carry out a thorough investigation.

The EPMU said it was thinking of the dead contractor's workmates and family, at what was a sad and stressful time.

Explosion at Wiri

Photo: RNZ/Mohamed Hassan

About the company

Salters Cartage describes itself as an industry leader in New Zealand's hazardous recycling disposal market.

On its website, the company said it was a "one-stop disposal service" for waste oil form major oil companies, and for the shipping and automotive industries.

It is also the contractor for Auckland Council's oil recycling initiative, where recycled oil is collected from drop-off bins around the region.

It said it collected about 6,500 litres each week from these locations.

In June, the company said its Bolderwood Place depot had undergone a major upgrade.

Concrete was laid across the whole yard and tank storage was increased by another 450,000 litres, to reach more than 2,000,000 litres of on-site storage.

The upgrade also included 24-hour live monitoring which checked levels in the tanks every five minutes.