Firefighters tackle huge pallet blaze

MORE than 80 firefighters from across Essex and Suffolk tackled a major blaze at an industrial estate yesterday. At its height, 30ft flames and thick black smoke could be seen for miles around the pallet depot at Wethersfield, near Braintree.

By James Hore

MORE than 80 firefighters from across Essex and Suffolk tackled a major blaze at an industrial estate yesterday.

At its height, 30ft flames and thick black smoke could be seen for miles around the pallet depot at Wethersfield, near Braintree.

About 15,000 pallets had been ignited by a spark from a nearby bonfire and the heat was so intense that the surface of a nearby road melted.


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More than 100,000 litres of water was used dousing the flames after an initial callout to the Old Mushroom Farm on Hedingham Road at about 12.20pm.

The first fire crews arriving on the scene from Braintree had to work quickly, evacuating 20 people from nearby buildings and moving a petrol tanker away from the flames.

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Nobody was injured but with about an acre of land covered by the burning pallets a decision was taken to increase the number of fire appliances up to 15.

Both the RSPCA Danaher animal home and a private riding stables are situated nearby but no animals were injured.

The blaze was brought under control by 3pm although officers remained on scene damping down.

Steve Wintrip, station officer at Braintree, was initially in charge of the incident and said crews did well to prevent more damage and possible injuries.

He said highly flammable cylinders had also been moved out of the area to reduce the threat of explosion.

He said: “We believe sparks from a bonfire adjacent to the site triggered the blaze. When we arrived we made up pumps immediately, first to six and then to eight because the fire was spreading so rapidly and it was threatening adjacent buildings.

“Our first priority was to prevent spread. We also had to get the people out of the building nearby and remove high risk items that were in the tooling factory - acetylene cylinders and a petrol tanker, which although it was empty still posed a danger.

“The flames actually reached the roof space in one of the factories but thanks to the efforts of firefighters we quickly got a hold on that.

“About two hours into the job we had to make contingency plans to maintain the water supply - not only did we seek assistance from Suffolk in this regard but our water team set up a water relay so that operations weren't affected.”

At one stage the firefighters even drained the water from a nearby fishpond to continue the supplies.

Sue Thompson, office manager at Nishkoi fish food company, based nearby on the small industrial estate, said the scene was unbelievable.

She said: “It was just massive, there was black smoke everywhere and we quickly realised it could be serious.

“We are just glad that no one was hurt as we know some of the people who work there.”

Environmental officers from Braintree District Council also attended but said the smoke should not pose a “significant health risk”.

Garry Philp , an environmental protection officer, said: “The plume of smoke has generally risen vertically and drifted southwards and although the Hedingham Road was closed to traffic, it has posed no particular problem to motorists or neighbouring properties.”

Crews from Braintree, Halstead, Dunmow, Wethersfield, Chelmsford, Colchester, Witham, Saffron Walden, Hadleigh, Brentwood, Haverhill and Sudbury attended with firefighters remaining on scene damping down into the evening.

No one from the pallets company was available for comment yesterday.

james.hore@eadt.co.uk

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