Village rallies as phones are cut off

INVESTIGATORS will try to establish today what caused a devastating fire which left around 1,300 households without telephone lines.Community spirit shone through in East Bergholt as residents rallied to overcome the problems throughout the weekend.

INVESTIGATORS will try to establish today what caused a devastating fire which left around 1,300 households without telephone lines.

Community spirit shone through in East Bergholt as residents rallied to overcome the problems throughout the weekend.

The drama started on Friday night when fire engulfed a BT van and spread to the village telephone exchange which it was parked next to.

Engineers worked non-stop over the weekend and were able to connect some of the houses to a temporary mobile exchange but it could take until the end of today before all the village has a normal telephone service.


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The post office and the Red Lion pub were among the community services inconvenienced by the fire and villagers were unable to dial-up to the internet.

The single-storey exchange in Gaston Street was severely damaged by the blaze and there was additional damage from the amount of water required to extinguish the fire. It could take months before the damage is repaired.

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Fire crews from Manningtree, Hadleigh and Holbrook were called at 9pm on Friday and they needed assistance from crews stationed at Colchester who brought in a hydraulic platform. It took two hours to put out the fire.

On Saturday a mobile telephone exchange was taken into the village from the Martlesham area and the first households to be reconnected had a service restored on Sunday morning.

Jason Mann, a BT spokesman said: ''It was a very big job as we had to link up the exchange with the whole of the BT network and there was a vast amount of work to be done.

''We have had a substantial number of people working on this day and night. We started to restore service to customers on Sunday morning and we hope to have the service back for everyone by the end of Monday.

''We talked to social services and a doctors' surgery to identify any particularly vulnerable cases for a medical condition and we made a mobile phone available for them.

''The fire started in a BT vehicle by the exchange and spread to the building. The cause of the fire will be investigated.''

Mr Mann added: ''We certainly understand any frustration that local customers might feel at not having a service.''

Mike Miller, a Babergh district councillor and former BT employee living in East Bergholt, said ''I think BT have excelled themselves. They were not allowed into the building initially while police looked for forensic evidence and then they did a very good job.

''They had to connect fibres to the exchange in Colchester, then they had to get mains power on the new exchange and then pick up 2600 lines and connect them one at a time and make sure they did not connect the wrong person to a number.''

The fire alert was raised by Kate Stannett and over the weekend her husband Charlie accompanied BT staff around the village to hand out mobile phones to potentially vulnerable householders.

The East Bergholt exchange is one of 5,500 exchanges across the UK. They are an essential part of the telecommunications network and the exchanges are used to supply anything from a few hundred customers to 15,000 people.

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