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Blazing barge 'on maiden voyage'

PUBLISHED: 18:42 06 December 2002 | UPDATED: 13:09 03 March 2010

A barge wrecked by fire on the River Orwell was on its 'maiden voyage' for an Ipswich machinery worker - who had bought it just hours before.

Tim Williams, 40, bought the St Theresa at midnight on Wednesday, but less than seven hours later the vessel was engulfed by flames and a dramatic rescue operation was launched.

A barge wrecked by fire on the river Orwell was on its maiden voyage for an Ipswich machinery worker – who had bought it just hours before.

Tim Williams, 40, bought the St Theresa at midnight on Wednesday, but less than seven hours later the vessel was engulfed by flames and a dramatic rescue operation was launched.

The fire is thought to have broken out in the living room area of the 127ft barge shortly before 7am yesterday while it was moored at a spot north of Levington, near Ipswich.

Coastguards, firefighters and a lifeguard crew were scrambled to the barge, which contained propane, oxygen cylinders and 150 gallons of fuel onboard.

Firefighters rescued Mr Williams, two other men, a cat and a dog onboard before one of the cylinders exploded.

No-one was injured but Mr Williams' 13-year-old cat died from its injuries later in the afternoon and his wife's parrot perished in the fire.

Mr Williams, a plant machinery worker from Ipswich, said yesterday: "I bought the house boat at midnight last night. This was her maiden voyage for me. Everything I owned was on that boat.

"I put every penny I had into that. To scrape £75,000 is hard going.

"I think it was the chimney that caught fire. As soon as it started it just went all the way through. It burnt up to the first bulkhead and she was three parts gone before we left her."

A spokesman for Thames Coastguard said they received a report of a barge on fire from Harwich Port Authority at 6.48am yesterday.

"They co-ordinated the incident with our assistance. We had both the inshore lifeboat and all-weather lifeboats from Harwich and Felixstowe, and Holbrook coastguards out," he said.

"The fire started at the front and moved back along the vessel. There were a couple of gas bottles onboard that exploded.

"The vessel was purposely run aground on the Pin Mill side of the river so that if the vessel sank it wouldn't do so in the middle of the channel."

The spokesman said an ambulance was called to the scene to ensure the people onboard were not injured.

The boat was towed back to Ipswich docks last night.

Mr Williams said he had lived on the vessel, which includes two double bedrooms, a cellar, and a 45ft workshop, for the past three months.

However, he had only bought the vessel at midnight on Wednesday.

He had planned to take the barge to its new moorings in Brightlingsea, Essex, and had moored overnight near Levington.

But yesterday morning, when he was about to start the next leg of the journey, the barge caught fire.

Mr Williams, a keen motorcyclist, said his entire personal belongings were on the boat when it was destroyed.

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