436 08.01.2013 Firefighter put out the blaze the destroyed the plastic factory in Brakpan in the East Rand. Picture: Itumeleng English

Johannesburg - It was a mammoth task preventing the raging fire from spreading and cooling down a flammable liquid tank so that it didn’t explode while firefighters battled to put out the flames at a Brakpan plastics factory.

It wasn’t immediately clear what led to the fire that gutted part of the huge East Rand plastics factory in Brakpan’s Volcania Industrial Area on Tuesday.

Ekurhuleni emergency management services (EMS) said a call alerting it to the fire was received at 1.25pm and firefighters found flames still raging when they arrived.

It was a challenging and delicate operation for firemen who were fighting to put out flames on the burning raw material, known as polyurethane.

“The material, which is in the form of small balls, is used to manufacture plastic and burns vigorously when it catches alight,” said EMS spokesman William Ntladi.

Large clouds of smoke were still billowing from the burning factory hours after the fire had started. Onlookers watched from a distance as firefighters battled the blaze.

Ntladi said that while they were trying to control the fire from spreading into other areas of the factory, they also had a 9 000-litre tank of propane gas to deal with. The tank was situated behind the burning structure and was very close to the flames.

“There was a leak, but we managed to close a valve to the tank, and then the challenge was to keep it cool so that it didn’t explode. We have also had to break through a concrete fence so that fire engines could easily access spots where the flames were still raging,” Ntladi said.

A vast area around the factory was cordoned off and people were prevented from getting any closer amid fears that the propane tank could explode.

Flames could still be seen on the other side of the building at 6pm on Tuesday, while firefighters strategically sprayed water from a crane in a bid to contain the inferno.

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The Star