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Video and gallery: Homes evacuated as blaze sweeps through old garrison building in Roman Circus Walk, Colchester

12:16 13 April 2014

Firefighters at the scene of the blaze at the old garrison site in Colchester. Photo: Darius G Laws.

Firefighters at the scene of the blaze at the old garrison site in Colchester. Photo: Darius G Laws.

Archant

Evacuees have described waking to “apocalyptic” scenes as flames engulfed a derelict garrison building in Colchester, forcing them from their homes.

Around 30 people living near the former Grade II listed building in Roman Circus Walk were told to leave their homes as fire raged through the Sergeants’ Mess.

Keith Gilligan, 31, was at home with his wife and their four-year-old son when they were woken by police at 1am.

“There was a really thick black smoke, you couldn’t see much and it was really heavy on your chest,” said Mr Gilligan, who described the scenes as “apocalyptic”.

The family gathered at a neighbour’s house with around 20 other evacuees while Colchester Borough Council prepared temporary accommodation for them at Leisure World on Cowdray Avenue.

Georgina Barthaud, 20, was in town with friends when her boyfriend called to say the building beside his flat was on fire.

“He said the air was very hazy and the next moment the police were knocking on the door saying we need you out,” she said.

“At the time it just looked like it was a small fire but after he went to get a change of clothes, he came back and it had shot up in flames - he’d never seen anything like it.

“It panicked me because it’s right next to the flat and as I was walking back from town I could see a big black cloud of smoke.”

Three fire crews from Colchester and appliances from West Mersea, Tiptree, Coggeshall and Tollesbury fought the blaze for several hours, containing it half way along the 63m x 30m block.

Assistant divisional officer Paul Gardner said: “When we arrived we were faced with a well developed fire raging in the ground floor of the building. Crews have done an excellent job in getting on top of the fire.”

A retired sergeant, formerly stationed at the garrison, said it was a “terrible” sight as he surveyed the burnt out shell.

“It was a lovely building and it’s a real shame this has happened,” he added.

Following a spate of fires at historic buildings in thee town, including this Victorian gymnasium near Abbey Field, Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell has called upon the borough council to “demand” that owners make their buildings more secure.

“This building is part of the rich heritage of the Army in Colchester and was one of the buildings which the council, along with English Heritage, insisted should be retained,” he said.

“Therefore the borough council must take firm action against the owner of the property.”

The mess, which was built in the mid 19th Century, is owned by housing developers Taylor Wimpey.

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