Mazda Motor on Friday said it will be difficult to restart operations by the year-end at a factory in Hiroshima where a fire broke out on Wednesday.

Kyodo News said the fire destroyed about 8,000 square metres of the 180,000-square-metre Ujina No. 1 factory in Minami Ward from Wednesday night to Thursday morning, forcing 1,000 workers to evacuate.

Mazda has since found that air-conditioning ducts on the third floor of the factory's paint-coating section have been burnt out - such damage to air-conditioning machines at an automobile-coating facility has serious implications because it is crucial to keep automobiles free of specks of dirt, officials told the news agency.

The fire left lots of soot in the factory, so it will be very difficult to resume operations soon, they reportedly said.

The Ujina No. 1 factory has accounted for 30% of the automaker's domestic output. The firm plans to suspend operations at the factory from December 26 until Jan. 5, corresponding with the nation's traditional year-end and New Year's holidays.

Officials told Kyodo News that Mazda wants to return the factory's operations to normal as soon as possible in 2005, but does not yet know when this will be. It is considering assembling the car models produced at the Ujina No. 1 factory at other factories.

The No. 1 plant, capable of assembling 268,000 cars annually, was opened in November 1966 and produces Demio [2] subcompacts, the RX-8 sports car and some other models, Kyodo News added.