Spate of field fires sparks warning

FIRE chiefs in Essex have issued a special call for public vigilance after 75 firefighters were sent to tackle more than 15 major field fires in the county in just one day.

FIRE chiefs in Essex have issued a special call for public vigilance after 75 firefighters were sent to tackle more than 15 major field fires in the county in just one day.

And yesterday a couple told of their fear as flames swept perilously close to their home during a massive cornfield blaze.

Artist Fonne Meakin was upstairs painting a portrait while his wife was working in the garden when a neighbour alerted them to a fire involving agricultural land just across the road from their cottage in Daltes Lane, St Osyth.

"It sounded to me like a strong wind rustling the leaves, which at first is what I thought it was," Mr Meaking said.

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"It was in fact the fire. When it came close it was roaring. It was scary with the intensity and ferocity of it.

"Our neighbour borrowed a garden hosepipe and was hosing down the two cottages. If it had caught the trees opposite that would have been it.

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"Then we heard a fire siren and the first engine arrived. A fireman told us to stop hosing down because we would be overcome by the smoke.

"The trees just 10 yards away from our house had it. The firemen were able to concentrate on this pair of cottages. They were very professional. You could not see for smoke."

The blaze swept through six hectares of corn at Braziers' Farm before three crews of firefighters managed to get it under control.

Sub Officer Simon Bates said: "We were called at about 2.30pm. It was hard work for the first half hour or so - the fire had gone right underneath into the ground, which is quite peaty.

"The houses were in danger of getting caught in it. The farmer had just gone twice round the field with the harvester, otherwise they would have gone."

Earlier in the day six fire crews battled with a field fire at the rear of Clacton Airfield, between Stanley Road and Cheery Tree Avenue.

Leading firefighter John Gibbs said: "We were called at about 12pm. The fire was in a field that had already been cut.

"We went through the airfield and there was a hay bailer which looked like it had overheated. The fire went over a ditch and into a field with corn still in it.

"The houses in Stanley Road weren't affected, except perhaps for some smoke - it basically stopped at the fence about 20 feet away from them.

"Two firefighters used breathing apparatus and it was very hot. The heat is the thing. With all the gear on your body just can't cool down - there's nowhere for the heat to go."

As well as the two Tendring blazes, there were field fires dealt with in Colchester, Orsett, Frinton, Waltham Abbey, South Woodham Ferrers and Chelmsford.

Yesterday Essex Fire Safety Officer Trevor Armstrong said, "Fires of this type tie up valuable resources, they are also very tiring and dangerous for our firefighters.

"This morning we heard on the news that 12 firefighters in Spain were killed while tackling a large grass fire, and we would like to take this opportunity to remind people to be vigilant while this hot dry weather continues.

"We would like to remind drivers to refrain from discarding cigarettes through car windows while driving along as this, combined with dry grass verges and hedgerows, can easily lead to fires.

"It is a known fact that a lot of these fire are started deliberately by children, and with school holiday about to start we are asking parents, to warn their children of the dangers of fire, as well as keeping matches and lighters out of their reach."

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