Explosion sparks evacuation

EXPLOSION fears sparked an evacuation of an Ipswich residential area after gas canisters were found in a workshop blaze.Nearly 300 homeowners faced a night on the floor of Gainsborough Sports Centre yesterday after a 200 metre exclusion zone was set up around the premises in Nacton Road.

EXPLOSION fears sparked an evacuation of an Ipswich residential area after gas canisters were found in a workshop blaze.

Nearly 300 homeowners faced a night on the floor of Gainsborough Sports Centre yesterday after a 200 metre exclusion zone was set up around the premises in Nacton Road.

Staff and pupils at Murrayfield Primary School were moved to a nearby recreation ground as black smoke engulfed the playground just after 1pm.

Nacton Road, Queensway and Ransome Road were closed to traffic, and police stopped anyone from crossing the cordons.


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Firefighters found three canisters engulfed in the flames in garages behind a house in Nacton Road.

Experts from the British Oxygen Company identified two oxygen canisters and one of acetylene gas, commonly used in welding and cutting, which can become unstable when heated, prompting the fear of explosion.

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Divisional Officer Peter Ludford, of Suffolk Fire Service, said: “The blast can be tremendous. For anyone within 50ft of it, the injuries would be serious to fatal. The shrapnel fallout can travel even further. They go off like a rocket.

“We are cooling it down with jets. It is very sensitive and prone to spontaneous explosion for up to 24 hours if destabilised.”

Prudence Wedderburn, whose 10-year-old autistic son Luke Smith is a pupil at Murrayfield Primary School said: “My first thought was just to get him home and get him away from the danger. The authorities were right to be very careful. Luke was just upset he would miss swimming.”

Ian Hansen, who owns Peninsula Properties rental business next to the danger area, added: “I went upstairs and had a look before we were evacuated. There were serious flames and some very strange coloured smoke.”

Sports activities were suspended at Gainsborough Sports Centre to make way for the evacuees in a joint operation between Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk police.

Around 60 pupils from Holywells School were directed to the centre at school closing time as their homes were in the exclusion zone.

Shortly before 6pm, the canisters were declared safe, and families returned home.

Chief Insp Chris Mayhew, who led the operation, said: “We would like to thank the public for their co-operation with the evacuation. We realise that it caused a great deal of inconvenience to a large number of people, but it was necessary.”

The fire is being treated as suspicious, and the scene will be protected until scenes of crime officers examine it.

Anyone with any information should call Ipswich police on 01473 613500.

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