November 29, 2023

Auckland train services resume after suspension caused by toxic smoke from scrap yard

Watch: Residents across Central and South Auckland are being advised to take care, with toxic smoke rising from a scrapyard fire.

Auckland train services have resumed after being suspended because of the massive scrap yard fire in Favona. 

Train services were suspended at around 9am on Wednesday after the Auckland Train Control Centre at Westfield had to be evacuated because of toxic smoke. This saw trains halted at the nearest station. 

KiwiRail Chief Operations Officer Siva Sivapakkiam said train services resumed shortly after 10am after control was transferred to the Wellington Control Centre. 

“The service halt has displaced trains across Auckland from where they need to be and there will be major service delays and cancellations as schedules return to normal,” Sivapakkiam said. 

“Auckland Transport and Auckland One Rail are working hard to try and ensure services have returned to normal in time for the afternoon peak.”

Sivapakkiam said Ōtāhuhu Station has been closed due to toxic smoke in the area and replacement buses are running to help move passengers from stations between Ōtāhuhu and Papakura. 

“We appreciate the impact the service disruption has on commuters, but to ensure the safety of our staff we were required to evacuate our Auckland Train Control Centre, along with our track maintenance and freight teams based at the Westfield rail yard,” Sivapakkiam said. 

“Train control talks to drivers and controls the safe running of trains across the Auckland metro network. Wellington train control is an important backup, but ensuring a safe transfer of control is complex, and does take some time to complete.”

It comes after Māngere residents are being warned about toxic smoke as firefighters continue to battle the fire.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) said they first received calls about the blaze just after midnight following reports of smoke in the area. 

The blaze is in a pile of scrap car parts on Manu St in Favona, which has caused plumes of black smoke to fill the air over the street. 

In an update at 10am, FENZ said they had extended its smoke warnings for the scrap metal fire, with Counties Manukau district manager Brad Mosby saying there has been a shift in the wind. Smoke from the fire is now moving north to include the suburbs of Greenlane, Ellerslie, Mt Wellington and Penrose. South Auckland also still remains affected by the smoke.

“We’re asking people to take care and keep their windows and doors shut, and wear a mask as a precaution while outside,” Mosby said. 

Moseby urged residents in the area to “be careful”.

“We just want the community to be mindful of the smoke plume. So it will be here all day, it is a significant fire that is releasing lots of smoke into the environment,” Moseby told AM.

“So just be careful out there, make sure if you’re in the smoke plume or if it’s drifting into your parts of the community, that you keep yourselves inside, doors and windows closed and don’t travel outside if you don’t need to today.”

Firefighters have spent between six and seven hours trying to get the blaze contained, which they have now done, with the focus turning to removing the scrap metal so they can get to the “deep-seated areas of the fire”.

While the blaze is contained, Moseby expects firefighters to spend the rest of the day getting to the bottom of it.

“We’ll be here throughout the day and it’s likely the smoke and fire will look bigger sometimes throughout the day as we turn things over and oxygen is introduced into the fire,” he said.

“So we’re expecting that to happen and if the community do see smoke getting larger, that would be the reason why.”

FENZ responded with 13 fire trucks and support crews have been on site for much of the morning. 

Aerial appliances are being used to tackle the flames, which have engulfed wrecked cars. 

AM reporter Emma Olsen, speaking from the scene, said the fire was in a “massive” scrap metal pile, which is causing black smoke to billow into the air. She said the pile is sized about 35x35m.

“Excavators are picking up piles of the scrap metal pile, which are car parts, and they’re moving them away to try and get to the base of where the fire is and put those hot parts out.”

She said it smells like “chemicals” in the area and there have been about 30 firefighters at the blaze.

“We’ve had some people who have been here since midnight from nearby businesses and they have been watching, not in awe but they’re just amazed at just how large the scale of this thing is.

“Those smoke clouds when I was driving here along the motorway, you could see it from kilometres away.”

Emergency management sent out a text message alert just after 6am to people in Māngere advising them to close their windows and doors. 

“If you have any health issues, contact your health provider,” the alert said.

James Fletcher Dr in Favona is closed while crews continue to fight the fire.

There have been no reports of injuries. 

The blaze has also seen some schools in the area affected, with Kings College, which is less than 2km away from the fire, has been closed for the day and switched to online learning. 

Otahuhu College will close early at 2:30pm. Koru School and Māngere East Primary School remain open but have told parents they can do what they feel is safest for their children. 

One local told Newshub it wasn’t the first fire to occur at the scrapyard. 

“It happens quite frequently I would say at this place. I think it’s about their third fire in about three years. The smell obviously isn’t very good and we probably should all go and work from home,” one local told Newshub. 

Would you like to receive notifications on latest updates? No Yes