Canberra: Firefighters were battling a massive chemical fire early on Friday at an industrial estate in this Australian city, a newspaper reported.

The fire broke out around midnight at a chemical factory in the Mitchell suburb. The blaze lit up the suburb with flames leaping hundreds of meters in the air. A column of smoke was billowing toxic fumes up over 800 metres in the air.  

There are reports that there were about 400,000 litres of toxic chemicals in the building. However, authorities said all chemicals had been contained at the site and no material had leaked into the storm water system.  

Australia Capital Territory State Emergency Services Commissioner Mark Crossweller warned there could be further explosions inside the factory as firefighters battled to contain the blaze.  

Atmospheric tests of the smoke plume have found almost undetectable levels of phosgene which is contained in the by-product of the substance being burned. Phosgene is known to cause irritation to skin and eyes, sore throat, nausea, headaches, chest pain and difficulty in breathing.

“The readings are looking good,” Crossweller told reporters in Canberra. “The inversion layer that we've had overnight is lifting, that's allowing the smoke to actually rise and disperse.”   But he warned that putting out the fire remained a complex operation.

“We're a long way from saying the site's declared safe and we're a long way from having the fire suppressed,” he said.  

At this stage there are no reports of casualties. As a result of the fire, there have been 300 meters exclusion zone around the factory fire in Mitchell.  

Mitchell residents and campers at the nearby local show ground were evacuated shortly after an explosion at the factory before midnight on Thursday. They were taken to an evacuation centre at Dickson.   All government schools on the northside of Canberra, including Belconnen, Gungahlin and the Inner North, will be closed on Friday.

(Agencies)