By Will Jackson
The Norply plywood factory in Kyogle was burning out of control last night as firefighters fought to prevent a large LPG cylinder on the site exploding.
Fire crews from across the region rushed to the factory 3km north of Kyogle as the football field-sized complex was engulfed.
Up to 35 workers fled the factory, which operates around the clock, after the fire started just before 7pm. It was not known how or where the fire started.
A 750-metre-wide perimeter was set up around the site in case the gas tanks detonated.
Hundreds of people gathered on the side of the Kyogle-to-Murwillumbah Road after seeing the fire's glow from kilometres away. Many were concerned for the welfare of workers.
Norply production manager Andrew McLeod said he believed that all staff on site at the time had been evacuated safely.
Rural Fire Service duty officer Steve Hall said between 50 and 60 emergency personal, including five NSW Fire Brigade crews, seven RFS crews, the SES, police, ambulance and Kyogle Council staff attended the disaster.
At 10pm, Mr Hall said the fire was still too hot to get near and that fire crews were mainly engaged keeping the gas tank cool.
"The entire building has been engulfed," he said.
Acting divisional commander Noel Redden said trucks were ferrying water from the closest hydrant at the nearby Hogan Sawmill.
Kyogle mayor Ernie Bennett said he was feeling helpless in the wake of the fire which had destroyed Kyogle's biggest employer. Up to 150 jobs were lost.