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Australia's Canberra chemical fire extinguished

(Xinhua)

15:18, September 17, 2011

CANBERRA, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- A fire that raged for about 22 hours following an explosion at a major chemical factory here has finally been extinguished, Australia Capital Territory (ACT) Fire Brigade confirmed on Saturday.

The fire broke out in Energy Services International, a chemical factory, in the suburb of Mitchell in the Canberra's north, Australia Capital Territory at about midnight Thursday. The fire lit up the suburb with flames leaping hundreds of meters in the air.

As the recovery phase of the operation begins in Mitchell on Saturday, the ACT state government will turn its attention to reviewing the performance of its emergency phone alert system, which generated some complaints and confusion from inner-north residents.

"We need to work through why some people didn't receive those messages," ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher told reporters in Canberra. "We know that many thousands did. But there's obviously some that missed out and we need to work out why that's the case."

Despite the fire being put out, Mitchell is expected to remain in lockdown over the weekend, as firefighters decontaminate the site.

The huge fire was believed to have been fueled by drums of PCB- contaminated oil and transformer oil. It had been feared that the huge plume of smoke, which drifted across northern Canberra, contained phosgene - a chemical compound used in mustard gas, a biochemical weapon used in World War I.

Atmospheric tests of the smoke plume found almost undetectable levels of phosgene, which can cause irritation to skin and eyes, sore throat, nausea, headaches and dizziness, vomiting, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

No one was hospitalized as a result of the toxic smoke or the blaze, although a security guard reportedly suffered smoke inhalation. Air testing was continuing.

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