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Fire has gutted a large commercial hay processing plant near Balaklava in South Australia's mid north, leaving an estimated damage bill of up to $14 million, with firefighters now racing against time to extinguish the blaze.
The fire on Balaklava Road at Bowmans is expected to burn for several days, and has already destroyed hundreds of tonnes of hay.
The plant, which is operated by hay producer and exporter Balco Australia, employs 36 permanent and casual staff and produces 120,000 tonnes of hay a year for markets including China and Japan.
"What's still burning now is the hay at each end of the shed," Balco Australia CEO Rob Lawson said.
"That's our main processing shed. We've got two press machines in there.
"The shed will clearly need to be replaced and if both machines need to be replaced then we're probably looking somewhere between $11 million and $14 million.
CFS aiming to contain blaze ahead of hot, windy weatherEmergency crews were called to the scene just after 2:00am, with flames visible from Port Wakefield Road.
Country Fire Service (CFS) incident controller Andrew Newton said firefighters were confronted with an inferno when they arrived.
"The structure itself had started caving in so the intensity of the fire was great," he said.
But firefighters were able to stop flames spreading to nearby storage sheds, and Mr Newton said crews were hoping to have it contained ahead of forecast hot and windy weather on Monday.
"We're hoping to have it out [by Wednesday]," he said.
"The size of the shed and what's still burning on the inside are still major concerns and will determine whether we actually meet those deadlines.
"With the winds, it could swirl which could send embers out of the building... there's still a lot of loose hay floating around the premises. Our biggest concern would be it starting something else."
The CFS was initially treating the fire as suspicious, but Mr Newton said that was no longer the case.
But he said it could be days before investigators could access the scene to determine a cause.
Spokeswoman Ali Martin said plumes of smoke prompted the CFS to issue an advice message to drivers and local residents.
"There's quite a lot of smoke in the area and it's currently affecting Balaklava as well," she said.
Mr Lawson said workers were on site late last night, with the final shift ending at 11:00pm.
He said the company was insured and would now work as fast as it could to rebuild.
"We'll do our best to keep our casual staff employed as well. Obviously it's harder to do that but we'll do the best we can," he said.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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