WITNESSES described seeing fireballs shoot 100ft into the air as three fuel tankers exploded into flames.

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More than fifty firefighters from across Suffolk were called to the UKAY Fuel Limited storage depot on Lady Lane Industrial Estate in Hadleigh at 6.40pm yesterday.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham said crews battled for 90 minutes to prevent flames spreading from the burning vehicles to an underground tank of fuel containing 50,000 litres of gas oil.

Police set up a 300m cordon and warned those living near the site, to close their windows and stay inside.

Louis Callaway-Rush, 22, was at a petrol station in Lady Lane when a woman rushed in and broke the news.

“I went round the corner and then I heard two almighty bangs as two of the tanks went up.

“It is the biggest fire I’ve ever seen up close.

“The flames were probably 100ft high. I was shocked something like this was happening in Hadleigh.”

The chemical engineer, who works for Hadleigh-based CK Chemicals, said when he left the scene, and reached the A1071, he could feel the heat of the blaze through his car window.

The A1071 was later closed to all traffic as emergency services set up a command post to deal with the situation.

The road was reopened about at 10.50pm.

Ross and Samuel Stone of Hadleigh said “explosions were constant” as the blaze took hold, while Jimmy Moore, 34, of Hadleigh, described how the sky over the town had been “lit up” with an orange glow.

Dep Chf Hardingham said the first of the tankers had been empty but the second vehicle contained 12,000 litres of kerosene.

The third tanker contained 15,000 litres of gas oil and 2,000 litres of road fuel.

The tankers were parked a short distance away from an underground storage unit that held about 50,000 litres of fuel.

Firefighters sprayed the tank, which was said to already be hot, with cold water to prevent the gas oil from igniting.

Dep Chf Hardingham, who praised the efforts of his crews and other emergency services at the scene, said: “Our main concern was about the storage tank. If the fire had spread it would have been much more significant for the premises and the surrounding businesses.”

All of the tankers were extinguised by about 9pm, although two fire engines remained at the site throughout the night.

A fire investigations team were at the site

A site inspection and investigation into the cause of the fire is due to begin tomorrow mornin

Paramedics, police and environment agency officers were also at the scene.

There have been no reported injuries.

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