Fire has caused extensive damage to the Ralph family’s Wagstaff multi-species abattoir at Cranbourne, on Melbourne’s southwestern fringes.
Company spokesman Jamie Ralph confirmed this morning that the plant had been extensively damaged by a fire on Saturday, but was too busy to provide further details other than to confirm that the full extent of damage was still being assessed. About 60 percent of the building was severely damaged, early reports suggest, indicating losses worth millions of dollars
About 100 firefighters from units as far away as Frankston spent five hours fighting the blaze, rescuing all but a handful of sheep being held nearby in preparation for this week’s kill.
More than 20 Country Fire Authority fire-fighting units were in attendance, after the alarm was raised mid-afternoon on Saturday.
The blaze is thought to have been sparked by an electrical problem in the roof. Personnel were understood to be on the surrounding land chopping wood, when the smoke was spotted, raising the alarm, reports suggest.
''It was initially reported as an electrical fire and when they opened the door, the fire just rolled up across the ceiling and across the building,'' a CFA spokesman said.
Insulation used in refrigeration make abattoir fires notoriously hard to control.
Hundreds of sheep and cattle were moved to safety from nearby pens. Most were unharmed, though a couple of sheep died from shock, local CFA reports suggested.
The Cranbourne facility is a Tier-Two export licensed plant, which had capacity to process about 300 cattle and 2500-3000 sheep daily. The plant is understood to have employed about 250 staff, also providing a service killing and boning program.
Established in 1908 to serve the fast-growing city of Melbourne, Ralph’s Meat Co was split about five years ago, with one extension of the Ralph family taking the Cranbourne facility, now operated under the Wagstaff name, and the other side of the family taking the original company’s second processing facility at Seymour, which continues to trade under the Ralph’s Meat Co name.
Both businesses remain 100pc owned by members of the founding Ralph family.
The Seymour facility is understood to have a capacity of 400 head of cattle per shift.