Major blaze badly damages food factory

By Dave GooderhamFIRE investigators have revealed a blaze that destroyed more than half of a factory might have been started by a discarded cigarette.

FIRE investigators have revealed a blaze that destroyed more than half of a factory might have been started by a discarded cigarette.

Suffolk Fire Service and police said they were keeping all options open following the fire yesterday at Premier Foods in Bury St Edmunds.

At its height, more than 150 firefighters from four counties battled the blaze at the Mildenhall Road factory, which could cost the company hundreds of thousands of pounds to repair.

Suffolk Assistant Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell said: "The fire service is considering a discarded cigarette as one potential cause for the fire.

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"We are unable to confirm this at this stage, but it is an option we are exploring as well as other options."

Det Sgt Barry Byford, of Suffolk police, added: "We are keeping an open mind at this stage. We will be returning to the scene today with the fire investigators, scenes of crime officers and the site manager to continue our investigations."

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Bosses at the factory, which employs 250 people and produces Branston Pickle and Loyd Grossman's sauces, were unable to say when it would reopen.

Company crisis manager, Brian Carlton, said: "We are still making assessments on the damage caused and this will continue on Thursday.

"We would clearly like the factory up and running again as soon as possible, but it is very difficult to say when this might be."

Firefighters were at the factory for more than 12 hours following the blaze, which began in the early hours of yesterday - the second to hit the town in a matter of weeks following a fire at Bury Leisure Centre last month.

The factory fire, which started in a group of wooden pallets in a security controlled area, forced more than 40 workers to leave the site and prompted fears about the safety of neighbouring homes.

Mr Howell said: "It was fortunate the whole factory was not destroyed as it was one of those situations where the fire could have easily got out of control.

"About 30% of the building was severely damaged and the smoke damage was considerable.

"The fire spread to the roof and then across to the first floor of both sides of the factory. There were obviously some other minimal hazards, like acidic acid from the vinegar.

"In addition, a number of cylinders heated to an extent that they gassed out - which is a safety measure to stop them exploding."

Neighbours also spoke of the drama that unfolded outside their homes shortly after 1.30am yesterday.

One resident, Hazel Smith, said: "I woke up with a bang and at first I thought one of my children had fallen out of bed.

"But it was much louder than that and when I looked out of my window, I saw black smoke and all the workers coming out. All I could see was smoke and then I heard a loud bang and flames flying up."

Another neighbour, Angela Stribling, added: "I saw the fire when it was on the roof and heard some kind of explosion.

"It was quite a shock and not something you expect to see opposite your house. It was just chaos."

Fire officers said the blaze had started in a covered central passageway linking the two main production areas and behind a security gatehouse.

Mr Carlton added: "The fire was discovered by two of our employees. Some attempt was made to put the fire out, but that was unsuccessful and we immediately evacuated the factory quickly and safely.

"Our priority now is to try to understand exactly what damage has been caused to the building and our manufacturing equipment and to get the factory up and running as quickly as possible.

"Hopefully, we will have the site back pretty quick, but until we know what damage has been caused, it is difficult to make that assessment.

"At this stage, it would be wholly inappropriate to speculate on the cause of the fire. The fire brigade responded extremely quickly and did a superb job and we would like to thank them."

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