NORTHERN Tasmania's industrial hub was under siege from toxic smoke yesterday with authorities shutting down parts of Bell Bay.
When firefighters arrived at OneSteel Recycling on Wednesday night they found the fire burning in a pile of wrecked cars, tyres and 400 tonnes of toxic smelter waste called salt cake.
Structures and a large excavator were also exposed to the fire, which was burning across an estimated 200 square metres.
The three-metre high flames were eclipsed by the noxious smoke plumes which saw nearby communities put on alert and a port factory and facility evacuated.
As a precaution, port berths 1 and 2 and Tasports were shut down yesterday afternoon.
``It's a recycling yard . . . any bit of metal or steel you could possibly think of is in there, so it's a big jumbled mess and extremely hard to pull apart,'' Tasmanian Fire Service district officer Steven Richardson said yesterday.
``There's a lot of tyres, fabrics, upholstery and rubbers burning so that's why there was quite a thick toxic plume of smoke coming off it.''
The salt cake, which contains deadly ammonia, gives off toxic fumes if drenched in water, making firefighting a challenge for emergency crews.
Excavators on site were used to pull apart the burning mess and water was used on areas where the salt cake was absent.
The Environmental Protection Authority and George Town Council were on site to limit the waste water entering the Tamar River. ``We know where the drains flow to so it's just a matter of blocking it off downstream, doing some testing and then determining how we're going to dispose of it,'' Mr Richardson said.
The service said it was yet to determine the cause of the fire.
Health and Human Services Department representatives were on-site, assessing the public health impacts although no injuries have been reported at this stage.
``Tyre smoke can irritate the lungs, and can particularly affect people with lung or heart disease,'' Dr Mark Veitch, acting Public Health director, said.
`` Anyone in the vicinity who is concerned about the smoke and their health should stay indoors, and keep the windows closed. If using air-conditioning, they should recycle air rather than draw it in from outside.''
Residents at nearby Hillwood received EPA phone calls yesterday, warning of potentially dangerous smoke.
Large plumes of smoke are expected to hang over the industrial zone for days as the recycling pit continues to smoulder.