Investigation launched after major blaze

AN investigation was due to start this morning into a fire which engulfed a row of three first-floor terraced flats in an East Anglian town.

Townsfolk ran out of their shops and homes with buckets filled with water and fire

extinguishers to douse the flames during its early stages at The Thoroughfare in Harleston, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border.

At its height more than 50 firefighters and ten crews from across Norfolk and Suffolk tackled the blaze yesterday, which had taken hold of a row of three first-floor terraced flats and the roof space.

Three ground-floor shops – the Kids Stuff toy shop, Kids Wear clothes store, and the Harleston Turf bookmakers – were also evacuated.

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The shopkeepers will this morning find out the extent of the damage caused by water and smoke.

A fire investigation is also set to begin today into the cause of the blaze, which is believed to have been started by an out of control back garden bonfire at about 3.30pm yesterday.

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The centre of Harleston was brought to a standstill as firefighters used an aerial ladder to reach the flats fire, which was under control by 6pm. No one was injured.

Judith Balls, of Dickleburgh, who runs the Kids Stuff second-hand toy shop, said: “We saw the fire first. We looked outside and we saw a bench and chairs on fire in the back garden.”

“We only opened a year ago and now this has happened. We are lucky in a way, I suppose, but when you have put so much effort into something it is quite hard to take.”

The shopkeeper also praised the efforts of her neighbours.

She said: “There were eight blokes that came from nowhere and ran into the shops filling buckets and using fire extinguishers.

“They were fantastic. It seemed a long while before the fire service arrived, but when things like this happen, everything seems to be in slow motion. It seems to have taken ages to put it out,” she said.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service group manager Duncan Ashworth said the incident could have caused some structural damage to the terraced properties.

He added that firefighters did well to stop the flames from spreading and were in “defensive” mode.

“They are old buildings and have very dry timber frames. It was showing signs of spreading up the street at the time and we managed to nip it in the bud quickly,” he said.

Crews attended from Harleston, Eye, Stradroke, Diss, Wymondham, Loddon and Norwich.

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