Workers helpless in fighting blaze
By ALEX EASTON
Building so damaged firefighters cannot enter to extinguish blaze
IT WAS a night of horror and heroism.
The fire at the Norply factory sparked and spread so fast it seemed to start in several different places at once.
Firefighters yesterday said the blaze appeared to have taken off about halfway along the building's road frontage.
While the cause may never be known, workers and firefighters suggested a mouse chewing on wiring may have started it.
They said the fire caught on dust, ran up the wall and on to metal struts across the ceiling.
It melted the plastic coating of power cables and dripped small fireballs around the factory, which then started new fires.
The 35 staff on duty knew all about fires ? the company trains them with firefighters every six months ? but this one gave them no chance.
Maintenance apprentice Robert Laarhoven said he saw the fire take hold and attacked it with a fire extinguisher.
"For a little while it looked like we were winning...but we just couldn't stop it," he said.
In other parts of the building, more workers were attacking the blaze with extinguishers and fire hoses, but within 15 minutes the battle was obviously lost.
Mr Laarhoven said he heard oxyacetylene tanks on the back of forklifts explode and saw the work ute blow up ? twice.
Even then, shift supervisor Narelle Little ? hailed as a hero by workers for getting everyone out alive ? said some refused to give up until they were 'virtually dragged out' of the building.
She praised two people in particular ? Denise Faulkner and Adam Simpson ? for fighting the fire for as long as possible.
"Adam Simpson is just an unbelievable young man. He was just on the end of that fire hose and he wasn't giving up," Ms Little said.
"The whole attitude was: 'These are our jobs and we are going to save this place'."
Scores of firefighters from across the Northern Rivers fared no better against the blaze.
Despite fire crews from the Kyogle, Richmond Valley, Lismore, Ballina, Byron and Tweed council areas fighting the blaze through the night, the fire was still going yesterday.
Rural Fire Service regional commander Noel Redden said the fire, which had been seen from Nimbin, would burn all weekend.
He said the building was now so damaged that firefighters could not enter it safely to reach the heart of the blaze.