Homes evacuated after blaze

DOZENS of people were evacuated from their homes in the centre of a Suffolk town after a major fire took hold in a derelict timber building where gas canisters were being stored.

DOZENS of people were evacuated from their homes in the centre of a Suffolk town after a major fire took hold in a derelict timber building where gas canisters were being stored.

About 45 firefighters, police and emergency planning officers from St Edmundsbury Borough Council were called to Duddery Road in Haverhill after reports came in of a fire in a disused building at about noon yesterday.

Eyewitnesses said they heard explosions and described smoke billowing down their street and 50ft high flames towering above their homes.

About 50 residents living in Duddery Road and some homes in neighbouring streets such as Mount Road were evacuated once 15 cylinders thought to contain liquid petroleum gas were discovered amongst the flames.

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Suffolk Police led the evacuation and set up a safety cordon around the area. The evacuees were taken to the nearby Haverhill Sports Centre, in Ehringhausen Way, where they were looked after by staff from St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

It was the third incident within a week in which people have had to be evacuated in Suffolk amid fears over volatile cylinders.

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Mark Steggall, assistant divisional officer with Suffolk Fire Service, said: “The fire started in derelict buildings. When we were alerted to the fire, the buildings were 100% alight.

“Our concerns were about the safety of the buildings, the cylinders we recovered and getting the residents away from the area. We had seven crews here and about 45 firefighters.”

ADO Steggall said there were 15 cylinders but none of them had blown up.

Inspector Bruce Gent, of Haverhill police, said his staff had evacuated people from about 40 homes and set up a police cordon.

He said: “The residents have been very patient. Because people were out for a while the leisure centre was opened up as a rest centre.”

One of those evacuated, Marjorie Turner, said: “It was very frightening. It was a strange experience. The police came to the door and said 'get out'.

“Things were exploding and the smoke was choking. The flames were 50ft high - they were higher than the roofs.”

Fellow evacuee Tracy Powley was led to safety with her 11-month old baby and six-year-old son Sam.

The family went to Haverhill Leisure Centre with other evacuees and Ms Powley said she was grateful to the staff there for everything they had done.

Lisa Jones, of Duddery Road, said: “I heard the fire engine and a couple of explosions and I thought we were right next to it. I went out and I could feel the heat. It is lucky the fire brigade got there so fast otherwise the whole street could have been burnt down.”

Joanne O'Sullivan, also of Duddery Road, told how her four-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier was first to notice something was wrong.

She said: “He was whining at the door. All the smoke was billowing down the street. The fire service was telling everybody to shut the windows and to get everybody out. The police said we had to evacuate right now.”

Residents were allowed back into their homes after 2pm once the all-clear had been given and the cylinders made safe. A spokeswoman for the fire service said the explosion sounds residents heard were most likely to have been glass cracking.

On Monday, about 15 families were evacuated from their homes in Upper Layham, near Hadleigh, after firefighters discovered acetylene cylinders were discovered in the area.

And on Wednesday last week, two petrol stations on the A14 near Newmarket were evacuated and the road was blocked for 20 hours when a van containing acetylene cylinders went up in flames.

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