A bizarre urban myth circulated on social media on Thursday.
A bizarre urban myth circulated on social media on Thursday.

Carpark fire's online hoax spread by trolls

A fire that shut down parts of Melbourne's biggest shopping centre spawned a bizarre story online that police were forced to dismiss as a hoax.

Chadstone shoppers were greeted by thick dark smoke and fire alarms shortly after 1.30pm when a car in an underground car park burst into flames.

The car park was closed and firefighters evacuated parts of the centre. Ten vehicles parked near the burning car also caught fire and sustained significant damage.

Police quickly determined that the fire was non-suspicious, but social media was telling a different story.

The so-called "shocking rumour" began with a familiar story purportedly sent in a text message. It was about a woman finding a purse.

"Chloe's friend just found a purse at Chadstone and drove to the persons (sic) house to drop it back to them," one Twitter user wrote.

"They were so greatful (sic) for her for returning it that they said to her 'please don't go back to Chadstone, only people in our community know this but there's an attack planned for before Christmas'."

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It was one of dozens of similar messages shared online, but police quickly intervened.

"Police are aware of comments on social media which reference remarks in regard to a shopping centre in Chadstone," Victoria Police wrote on Twitter.

"Similar comments have been received in the past and are not being treated as credible. As such, we encourage the community to not share misinformation."

Cars left destroyed by the fire in the Chadstone car park.
Cars left destroyed by the fire in the Chadstone car park.

Social media users confirmed they too had heard that rumour before.

"That's been going round since the '80s," one wrote on Reddit.

Firefighters were called to the up-market shopping centre in Victoria's southeast at about 1.40pm. Fifty firefighters were needed to bring the fire under control. There were initial difficulties gaining access to the blaze and a hose had to be fed down from the main road.

Parts of the centre was evacuated and shoppers were forced to wait several hours to return to their vehicles.

A nearby childcare centre was evacuated as thick smoke swept across the area.

Chadstone is the largest shopping centre in Australia, spanning 190,000sq m.