Inferno ravages chip mill

Fire fighters work on the blaze at the Eden chip mill.
Fire fighters work on the blaze at the Eden chip mill.

There are fears for the long-term future of the Eden chip mill as not only the stack of chips continues to burn but so too, do the forests that supply the mill.

On Saturday night Eden's chip mill came under attack as the Border Fire travelled north. The blaze was such that 10 people had to be evacuated by sea from the Naval Wharf on a Victoria Water Police boat which came to their aid at about 2.30am on Sunday.

Cr Robyn Bain has a long association with the timber industry and said she had concerns for the future of the industry.

"The mill itself might be recoverable. There's a component of the mill that has burnt, like the conveyor belts but I don't know about the economics for the company (Allied Natural Wood Exports)," Cr Bain said.

"A lot of infrastructure is still there but in the longer term it's about the resource itself. You can't have a chip mill without forests.

"It's not just our chip mill. I wonder about the resources for the Bombala mill as well," Cr Bain said.

The Rockton Fire is part of a larger fire burning in Victoria and NSW through bushland and pine forest in a predominantly north westerly direction putting Bombala in its path.

Crews working at the chip mill.

Crews working at the chip mill.

"These fires won't stop until we get some serious rain."

There are about 65 workers at the chip mill but it has a much wider effect.

"There are 600 people in our area directly involved. While it is still standing there's always a chance of recovery but its the trees," Cr Bain said.

The stack of wood chips, now burning, was believed to be close to capacity.

"We can all see how large the pile is and it's because they lost a couple of shipments to China. There were two or three cancelled shipments which were due to the China/America dispute.

The Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton said the priority was to save lives first followed closely by livelihoods and jobs but he warned "the downstream consequences for rural communities will be severe".

"These trees take 10 years (in the case of trees for paper and cardboard making) or 30 years (in the case of the pine trees used for house framing) to grow, so when the fires are finally contained it, will be like a slow motion train crash as the full downstream consequences are felt," Mr Hampton said.

He said it was vital to try and save as many plantations as possible, run salvage operations, replant under the government's $2bn reconstruction fund and fast track the one billion trees program.

The chip mill on fire.

The chip mill on fire.

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