A tobacco shop in Melbourne’s north was engulfed in flames and explosions early on Friday morning, sending metal canisters flying into nearby properties and causing damage to cars and roofs. Firefighters battled the blaze for more than an hour, while residents were evacuated from their homes. Police are investigating the cause of the fire, which is being treated as suspicious.
The fire broke out at the Craigieburn Convenience Tobacco store on the corner of Smeaton Court and Bridgewater Road around 3:30 am on Friday. Residents reported hearing loud bangs and seeing flames and smoke coming from the shop. A video captured by a witness shows the intensity of the fire and the explosions, which sent metal canisters into the air. Watch the video here.
The canisters, which are believed to contain compressed carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide, landed in the backyards and roofs of neighbouring houses, some as far as 200 metres away. One of the canisters damaged the roof of a carport, while another became wedged deep in a lawn. No injuries were reported, but some residents said they were shaken by the incident.
“It was like a grenade. A bomb,” one resident told 7NEWS. “The noise was just unbelievable. I thought it was an earthquake at first.”
The firefighting and the evacuation
Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) said 14 emergency vehicles attended the scene, including seven fire trucks. The firefighters faced a challenging situation, as they had to deal with the fire, the explosions, and the flying debris. They also had to protect the nearby houses from the embers and the flames. One of the neighbouring roofs caught fire, but was quickly extinguished.
The firefighters managed to bring the fire under control by 4:45 am, but remained on the scene for several hours to ensure there were no hotspots or flare-ups. They also conducted a thorough search of the shop and the surrounding area to remove any remaining canisters or hazardous materials.
The police and the paramedics also attended the scene, and helped to evacuate the residents from their homes. Some of the residents were taken to a nearby community centre, where they were provided with food and water. They were allowed to return to their homes later in the morning, after the area was declared safe.
The investigation and the suspicion
The police are investigating the cause and the origin of the fire, which is being treated as suspicious. They have cordoned off the area and collected evidence from the shop and the nearby streets. They have also interviewed the witnesses and the shop owner, who said he had no idea why his shop was targeted.
The police are also looking into whether the fire is linked to a series of arson attacks on tobacco shops across Victoria in recent months. In January, two tobacco shops in Melbourne’s south-east were set on fire within a week, causing extensive damage and forcing the closure of the businesses. The police have not confirmed if the incidents are related, but have urged anyone with information to come forward.
The tobacco industry has also faced growing pressure from the government and the public health advocates over the health and environmental harms caused by its products. Earlier this week, a global summit on tobacco control in Panama called for the adoption of a measure that would strengthen the ability of countries to hold the tobacco industry liable for the costs of treating tobacco-related diseases and preventing tobacco use.
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