Investigation launched after blaze drama

A MAJOR investigation will be launched today after almost 20 firefighters, police and members of the public required hospital treatment when a burning vehicle threatened to engulf a Suffolk village with toxic fumes and poisonous gases.

A MAJOR investigation will be launched today after almost 20 firefighters, police and members of the public required hospital treatment when a burning vehicle threatened to engulf a Suffolk village with toxic fumes and poisonous gases.

Residents in Thurston, Bury St Edmunds, were last night urged to seek medical advice if they suffered any ill effects from yesterday's dramatic incident after a Land Rover Discovery caught alight with pesticides, rat poison and shotgun cartridges on board.

The warning came after it emerged that the quick-thinking actions of the Land Rover driver Chris Earith, 58, a self-employed pest controller, might have saved more people from inhaling the fumes after he drove his burning vehicle away from the village before he was forced to jump out.

A dozen brave firefighters, two police officers and five members of the public - including Mr Earith -were taken to hospital as a “precaution” after inhaling the noxious gases - and fire chiefs admitted last night the fumes released in the atmosphere could affect more people.


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Eddie Mealon, senior divisional officer for Suffolk Fire Service, said: “With the pesticides involved in the fire, we needed to get crews to hospital as they had some related symptoms.

“They have been examined by doctors at West Suffolk Hospital who want to keep them in there for 12 hours as a precaution.

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“The hospital is treating this as a major incident due to the number of people involved. We will now start a major investigation with our own Health and Safety Executive to look at what happened and to see what lessons can be learned.

“Our advice to residents would be anyone 100 metres from the fire who might have become exposed to it and are showing symptoms - like coughing or having breathing difficulties - should go to the hospital. “I don't believe there is a serious problem but this would put peoples' minds at rest.

“We are fortunate no one was seriously hurt but every precaution was taken to ensure the fumes stayed out of the atmosphere as much as possible.”

The incident unfolded only 100 yards from Thurston Community College and teachers were warned to keep pupils in doors during the day although they were later allowed home.

Only one fire crew was initially called to a suspected vehicle fire at about 11.45am - but back-up crews were soon recruited as crews realised the potential seriousness of the situation.

The area around Rylands Close was immediately sealed off by police who maintained a strict cordon around the area to prevent anybody inhaling the toxic vapours.

Witnesses spoke of seeing the firefighters lying on the ground once the blaze had been put out while Mr Earith and some of his family were also taken to West Suffolk Hospital in nearby Bury St Edmunds.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency admitted there was still some concern about chemicals getting into road gulleys but said they were confident they could solve the problem today.

“About 120,000 litres of water used to put out the fire caused us some concern because within that water is the chemical Rodenticide, which is used for the control of rodents,” the spokesman said.

“It has run into road gulleys and we're currently trying to get hold of a specialist company to remove the water.

“Because there has been no rain the gulleys were dry so the water is contained in them. We're anxious to get that water away as soon as possible, hopefully today, so it does not enter the environment.”

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said officers had been aware of what happened but it was too early to say whether a full-scale investigation by specialist examiners would take place in the wake of the incident.

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said: “I can confirm that 12 firemen and two policemen have been admitted to accident and emergency after being exposed to a gas.

“They are going to be kept in for observation overnight.”

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