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‘A lot of people just lost their jobs’

More than 100 onlookers watched as the HWP building burned to the ground, belching black smoke as it collapsed.

For some, it was merely a spectacle. For others, it marked what could be the end of their employment for now.

“It doesn’t look like I’m coming in to work tomorrow,” one HWP staffer said. “It doesn’t look like anyone will be coming in tomorrow.

“A lot of people just lost their jobs. Everyone who worked in the back, everyone in the offices. It’s all gone.”

Workers said they believed the fire originated from the spray room, but quickly spread, consuming the building.

One worker said: “I’ve seen people in and out of there with fire extinguishers before. If something happens, we know what to do.”

Another employee said: “I wasn’t here when it happened, but it seems the fire started in the body shop.

“There’s paint in there and that’s where we store all our computers. All the cars have petrol in them obviously.

“There are up to 30 cars in there. Some new in the showroom, others being repaired in the shop.”

Along with the cars inside the building, at least one row of cars outside the building were damaged to varying degrees. Some of the vehicles appeared to have caught fire, while others merely suffered smoke damage.

One man said police had told him he couldn’t move his vehicle. Instead, he had to watch as the flames moved closer to his car.

“I wanted to get my car fixed. Now it might be a complete write-off,” he said. “It’s going to have smoke damage at least.”

Area residents and curious onlookers watched as the building burned from Cox’s Hill and Pembroke Park Lane, even as police pushed the crowds further away.

One homeowner on Pembroke Park Lane said she was fortunate the wind was blowing the smoke away from her home.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in all my days,” she said. “Even if it doesn’t cross the street, people are going to lose thousands. And then you have the people breathing all this in.

“I was worried about Belco smoke, but now that doesn’t seem so bad.”

Another area resident said: “I was in Arnolds when it started, I came out on to the street and I couldn’t see anything because of the smoke. I came back to check my house wasn’t on fire.”

Dozens captured video footage with their cell phones, spreading the word of the blaze.

“I wonder what’s going to be on the front page tomorrow?” one joked.

Watching as the flames engulf the building, some members of the public noted the colour of the smoke, which ranged from grey and black to green and yellow in areas.

“That’s all those chemicals,” one onlooker said. “I’d hate to be one of those people on the hill. They have got to be moved.

“See how the fire is spreading so slowly on the roof? That’s asbestos.”

Others debated if the loud pops heard throughout the area, sounding almost like gunshots, were small explosions inside the flames, or pieces of the building collapsing.

“It started just after 2pm. The fire fighters were here quickly but it doesn’t seem they can get very close to the fire,” said one onlooker.

Those standing closer to the blaze said they could feel the heat from the fire, even though they were more than a hundred meters away.

Several of the onlookers expressed concern that the flames would spread to other buildings, including a gas station located across the street.

One gas station employee who stood in the crowd, assured them that all the pumps had been turned off and safety measures were in place.

Others said with the direction of the wind, they were concerned the fire would spread to the nearby football field.

“I’m just glad we had all that rain last week,” one woman said. “If this happened two months ago, most of Hamilton would be burning by now.”

Caved in: The roof of the building at the rear of HWP Group?s Body and Paint Centre partially collapsed following yesterday?s blaze, evidence of the ferocity of the fire.

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Published August 09, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 09, 2011 at 9:18 am)

‘A lot of people just lost their jobs’

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