Fire crews in hospital after barn blaze

By David LennardFUMES from a fierce barn blaze left 12 firefighters needing hospital treatment.The alarm was raised shortly after midnight yesterday at Pound Farm, Redisham Road, Ringsfield, between Halesworth and Beccles.

By David Lennard

FUMES from a fierce barn blaze left 12 firefighters needing hospital treatment.

The alarm was raised shortly after midnight yesterday at Pound Farm, Redisham Road, Ringsfield, between Halesworth and Beccles.

A large barn filled with stored straw and hay, along with about 10 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, was well alight.

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The fertiliser gives off toxic fumes when burnt and the 12 firefighters were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Fire crews from Beccles, Bungay, Halesworth, Wrentham and Lowestoft fought the blaze and managed to bring it under control shortly before 2am.

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The barn and its contents were destroyed in the blaze and fire crews remained at the scene for much of yesterday.

Assistant Divisional Officer David Atkinson, of Suffolk Fire Service, said: “The barn was well alight when the first crews arrived on the scene.

“As the building contained fertilisers, 12 firefighters went to hospital for a check-up as a precautionary measure.”

Eleven of the 12 firefighters were released from the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston shortly after undergoing checks as a precautionary measure after they complained of sore throats.

The one remaining officer was expected to be released after having undergone further tests.

The detached barn, close to the Redisham Road, is a few hundred yards from the centre of Ringsfield and contained about 200 tonnes of straw and hay.

Several hours after the blaze was brought under control there were still pockets of flames being left to burn themselves out among the debris.

Fire investigators were at the scene yesterday to try to establish the cause of the blaze.

“We are still investigating the cause of the fire, but at this stage it is not being treated as suspicious,” said Mr Atkinson.

Verity Montagu, who lives next door to the barn and alerted fire crews, said she had been woken shortly after midnight to the sound of popping and crackling.

“It sounded like fireworks going off and you could see the barn ablaze from the bedroom window,” she added.

“It was very worrying and so lucky that the wind was blowing in the other direction. The fire didn't really threaten us, but if it had come this way our buildings would have had it, it would have been terrible.”

Farmer David Merrell, who owns the barn with his brother Bob, estimated the damage caused by the fire would cost up to £3,000.

Mr Merrell, who lives in Shadingfield, said: “I am very fed up. We were called by the Montagus at 12.27am and when they told me what was going on, I went numb.

“I went down there with my brother, but there wasn't really much we could do. The firefighters were looking after it and they said it was best to let it burn itself out after a while as adding more water would just make it worse.

“Luckily there wasn't much machinery inside. Quite often we have combine harvesters or tractors, but we only had two small grain augers inside which weren't worth very much.”

No evacuations of nearby homes were made during the firefighting operation, but Suffolk police advised anyone suffering from a sore throat, itchy eyes or feeling as if they were drunk to contact their GP or local hospital.

Suffolk Deputy Chief Fire Officer Ken Seager said evacuation would have been more dangerous as people would have had to come outside and expose themselves to the smoke.

“The farm is in a very remote rural location and there aren't many nearby homes,” he added.

“The issue of the safety of other people in the area was considered when the fire was being tackled and contact was made with those homes who were closest to the fire. People were advised to stay indoors and keep doors and windows closed.”

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