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After more than 17 hours firefighters have brought under control an explosive, toxic Melbourne warehouse fire but crews are expected to stay there for days.
A steel recycling company was in the process of moving into the tin and asbestos West Footscray warehouse with 44 gallon drums, some of which had grease, oil and acetone residues as well as aerosol cans fuelling yesterday's explosive fire.
"The West Footscray fire is now under control. We expect there will be smoke in the area for some time and crews will remain on scene," the MFB advised shortly after 10pm.
"A watch and act advice message remains in place and the community should continue to monitor conditions."
Alerts are in place for 21 suburbs including Altona, Brooklyn, Footscray, Kingsville, Newport, Port Melbourne, Spotswood, Sunshine, Williamstown and Yarraville.
The warehouse was also divided into two by shipping containers, hampering the firefighting effort, MFB acting chief officer Greg Leach told a community meeting last night.
The asbestos roof of the warehouse had collapsed and firefighters will have to go into the wreckage when safe to take it apart and cool the smouldering mess below.
"That will take time," Mr Leach said. "It's dirty work, but it's got to be done."
Authorities were called to the fire at 5am (local time), but Mr Leach said the intensity suggested the blaze had been burning for hours earlier undetected.
About 140 firefighters will remain at the site overnight and they have been rotating shifts regularly to minimise exposure.
"This is one of the biggest (fires) we have seen in Melbourne for a long time," Mr Leach told reporters earlier in the day.
Eleven public schools, 38 childcare centres and eight Catholic schools in the affected areas were closed but are expected to reopen on Friday.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp urged asked residents to stay away from the area unless they needed to be there.
"We don't want to see people stickybeaking. Community safety's really important," he told reporters.
Environmental Protection Authority chief scientist Andrea Hinwood said there were extra air monitors in the area.
Because the plume was sitting quite high, there was not a lot of damage to air quality, but she urged people to heed emergency warnings.
"It's a complex mixture of gases and particles and it's got that acrid smell associated, so it can be irritating to people who are sensitive," she said.
However, water run-off near Stony Creek in the Yarra River and possibly down into Hobsons Bay, around Williamstown, is also a concern and people should not go near or touch the water.
Melbourne Water said in a statement on Facebook it is working with the MFB, City of Maribyrnong and the EPA to "manage, educt and discharge runoff from the fire site and Stony Creek."