THE Melbourne Arts Centre spire caught fire in a dramatic conclusion to Melbourne's New Year's Eve fireworks display.
The fire appeared to be caused by a firework that failed to discharge properly during the spectacular show, which was witnessed by more than half a million people, the Herald Sun reports.
The area around the Arts Centre was evacuated immediately following the end of the of the fireworks.
Large piece of flaming debris fell at about 12.32am, causing smoke to rise from a lower level of the spire.
Police struggled to hold back hundreds of people, many of whom had parked their cars at the Arts Centre.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade spokesman John Taylor said more than 100 callers rang 000 to report the dramatic fires.
"Given the congestion regards mobile phone usage many others would not have gotten through to 000," Mr Taylor said.
"Due to the crowds of hundreds of thousands in the area it was time consuming for trucks to get to where crews could access the building where some debris had landed on the roof whilst some material still burned above on the spire."
Mr Taylor said an aerial appliance checked for possible fires on the roof and the police air wing was also able to direct firefighters to where small fires were.
"The High Angle Rescue Team was deployed to enable rope access to the spire to ensure no further problems," he said.
"No estimate of damage to the Art Centre or the spire is yet available but further checks will be made during daylight hours."Thirty minutes into the New Year the flames covered two sides of the Arts Centre peak in St Kilda Rd as seven fire trucks, carrying 25 firefighters, tried to navigate their way through hundreds of thousands of revellers.
And Flinders St Station was thrown into mayhem as a small army of police escorted a fire truck through the crowd of tens of thousands at Swanston St.
It took more than ten minutes for the truck to break through and reach the Arts Centre.
Louise Sanders, of Sunshine, had just enjoyed fireworks with friends when she was told she could not reach her car parked near St Kilda Rd because the road was partially blocked by emergency services.
"The police have told me to go around a different way, but I don't know how to do that,'' she said.
''We're just not sure what's going on.''
Small flames were still visible on the lower level of the spire at 12.50am as the police air wing circled the towering fire and flaming chunks continued to fall from the building.
The fire near the top of the Melbourne icon was a dramatic conclusion to night which saw police break up a crowd in Rye after fireworks were fired at them by drunken youths and a Preston man suffered a serious eye injury when a cracker went into his eye.
But overall, New Year's celebrations were successful and mostly good-natured, with up to 600,000 people in Melbourne's CBD and lining the banks of the Yarra River,cheering in the start of 2012.
More than 600 uniform and plainclothes police officers were busy on the city's streets looking out for what new Police Commissioner Ken Lay called the "one per-centers'' looking for trouble.
The corner Swanston and Flinders streets was a sea of revellers as marshals struggled to keep crowds moving across Princess Bridge, while at the other end of the city a building projection bathed the facade of the State Library of Victoria in gold.
As parties got underway, Chief Commissioner Lay was warning extra police would be deployed to Phillip Island, the Surf Coast and Ballarat as the clock approached midnight and 2012.
"Their job is to facilitate people having a good time,'' he said.
"But we need to be aware of the one-percenters who might cause trouble.''
A ring of booze buses was deployed around the city to halt drink and drug-affected drivers.
Commissioner Lay watched over the CBD operations as police targeted troubled-makers and drunks.
A "no stopping'' policy was enforced on the Princes Bridge to keep a steady flow of foot traffic.
Revellers who stopped to take in the view over the main fireworks area were told to move along.
Drivers faced a cluster of key street closures including Flinders St, Batman Ave, Swan St and Queensbridge St. Brunton Ave and Jolidhmont Rd were also shut down for six hours until 11pm.
Across the state, revellers were well behaved early, with police reporting no major incidents throughout the afternoon and early evening.
Ambulance officers implored partygoers to stay hydrated with water as temperatures lingered above 30C into late afternoon, sparking fears the heat could prompt heavier drinking.
Bolstered public transport services ferried revellers home into the early hours of the morning as free rides were offered after 6pm.
Parents Linda and James Box said toddler Noah was scared of the loud bangs, but enjoyed the evening overall.
"We can get him home to bed now,'' Mr Box said.
"There is lots of police activity around, which makes us feel very safe.''
On Swanston St a "chill out'' zone near Federation Square ensured overheated partygoers could get cool as ambulance and police watched over the crowd.
At Rye on the Mornington Peninsula, shortly after midnight a reveller hurled fireworks at a group of five policeman patrolling the crowd.
None of the officers appeared to be injured, but police began dispersing the crowd immediately.
Earlier police had searched the beach looking for the culprit responsible for tossing a firework into a crowd on Rye beach.
Read more at the Herald Sun.