A man has been forced to jump into the ocean for his own safety after the Whyalla jetty caught fire this afternoon.
- The MFS says plastic decking caught alight on the jetty
- The estimated damage bill is unknown
- The local council says the fire was sparked by a contractor
A police officer in Whyalla for a training course helped the man back to shore after he struggled to swim to shore.
The jetty has been closed to the public since 2017, and was in the process of being demolished.
South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) media liaison officer Nicolle Bradley said the fire was reported about 12:45pm today at Buttlingarra Way.
She said the cause of the fire was from sparks from cutting equipment coming into contact with combustibles.
“Workers were present at the time, with one having to self-evacuate by jumping into the ocean,” she said.
She said the estimated damage bill was still being assessed.
“On arrival MFS crews found approximately 75 metres of plastic decking had caught alight on the 150-metre long jetty,” she said.
“Three MFS appliances, supported by one CFS appliance contained the fire in approximately 30 minutes.
“The cause and estimated damage bill is still being investigated and will [be] provided once it comes to hand.”
The police officer who was in Whyalla for a training course with the man who jumped off the jetty. (Supplied: SA Police)
Police said the man who jumped into the water inflated a life jacket he was wearing and tried to swim to shore, but the current was too strong.
Constable Daniel Havelberg, who was visiting Whyalla from Port Lincoln, swam out to the welder and guided him back to the beach while other officers helped evacuate the jetty.
Fire and smoke ‘came out of nowhere’
A witness who works nearby, and did not want to be named, said it was a spectacular sight.
“It was pretty phenomenal actually — it just came out of nowhere and everyone at the restaurant went out and had a good look, and we were all debating about whether it was deliberate or by accident, but it was pretty, pretty rare to watch,” the witness said.
George Vlachoulis was in Whyalla today and posted a video on social media after he drove by the jetty.
He said from a distance it looked like it could have been sparked by a grinder.
“As far as we were aware from a distance it was either sparked from grinding a light post down without adequate fire safety … or electrical from said light post because they were flickering last night which was out of the norm,” he said.
Aubrey Kaehne from the Whyalla Sea Rescue Squadron was watching from the radio tower when the fire started.
“It took everybody by surprise,” he told the ABC.
“I was preparing my lunch actually. I could see them oxy-cutting … and all of a sudden it exploded into a huge flame.”
Mr Kaehne said it was “quite exciting” to witness.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for [the demolition] to start,” he said.
“It started with a bang.”
A passer-by took photos of black smoke coming from the jetty in Whyalla. (Instagram: Andrew_S26)
‘No reports of anyone being injured’
In a statement on its website, Whyalla City Council confirmed a workplace incident had occurred which caused a “significant fire” on the city’s old jetty.
“Just after noon, demolition work by a contractor sparked a fire on the jetty’s plastic-based planks. This fire quickly spread to the eastern third of the jetty,” the statement said.
“The present structure is being demolished in preparation for a new innovative loop-design jetty.”
Council chief executive Chris Cowley said the incident was now under the control of Maritime Constructions, the company contracted to demolish the old jetty and construct the new one.
“Importantly, we have had no reports of anyone being injured in this incident and it seems there was no danger, from the fire or smoke, to Whyalla residents,” he said.
“We will seek a debrief from Maritime Constructions on the reasons for this fire and seek further assurances that all safety measures are being observed in the demolition and construction to ensure there are no more incidents of this nature.
“We’d like to thank the fire crews and police that acted so quickly to put this fire out and ensure the safety of everyone in Whyalla.”