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Explosion shocks Suffolk village

PUBLISHED: 20:00 16 May 2002 | UPDATED: 11:57 03 March 2010

SAFELY back in their homes, villagers told today of the terrifying moment they had to be evacuated when a gas explosion ripped through a neighbour's cottage.

villagers told today of the terrifying moment when a gas explosion ripped through a neighbour's cottage.

Four fire crews and gas engineers were called to the house in Trimley St Martin after the owner is believed to have accidentally cut through a live gas pipe.

Neighbours, who were quickly evacuated, are today safely back in their own homes.

They said the house where the blast occurred belonged to plumber and central heating engineer Peter Draper, who was taken to hospital with burns to his arm.

The drama happened at about 6.30pm yesterday. Villagers heard an explosion in the detached cottage in Mill Lane and then saw smoke billowing from windows.

Neighbour Shaun Watling said he was with his family in his back garden when they saw smoke sweeping through the gardens.

"It all happened very quickly. The garden was filling with smoke and I could see flames shooting up above the hedge. Our electricity went off at that moment too," said Mr Watling, a police officer.

"We telephoned the fire service and I ran down the street to see if there was anything I could do to help.

"I could see the owner in the garden. He was just walking round and round looking at the fire in his home – he didn't appear to be hurt. I could see it looked very serious and there was nothing I could do."

Mr Watling said fire and police officers advised residents to leave their homes because of the danger of further gas explosions.

He and his wife Tracey went to stay in their caravan, which they keep in another part of the village. Their children – Natasha, 15, Gemma, 13, and Louise, four – went to stay with relatives in the area.

Mr Watling said: "We have just come back this morning – it was easier than bringing the children all back late last night and disrupting them."

In all, 20 homes between Mill Close and Old Kirton Road were evacuated. People went to friends, relatives, and some to local pubs until they were told it was safe to return at about 10pm.

Mr Draper, believed to be in his 60s, suffered minor burns and was treated in hospital. Neighbours said he had lived for many years in the property, which was hundreds of years old and at one time had been two cottages.

He "kept himself to himself" and had worked locally for many years. He was keen on DIY and had carried out many improvements to the cottage.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: "The fire service said we had to go, so I just got in my car and went.

"They eventually let us back at about 10pm. The electricity was off and the gas, but the gas came back on about 5.30am today.

"The fire service were just wonderful – they were here very quickly and did an excellent job."

Firefighters believe the householder cut through a live gas supply pipe, sparking a devastating blast through the cottage, blowing out the windows and starting fires on both floors.

The risk of another explosion was so severe, firefighters had to withdraw from the premises in Mill Lane as Transco workers dealt with the gas leak.

Crews from Ipswich and Felixstowe tackled the blaze.

Assistant Divisional Officer Jon Cook said: "The occupier of the house was doing some DIY when, we believe, he cut through what he thought was a disused gas supply.

"It ignited and caused the blaze and, we assume, an explosion as well as the windows were blown out. The first crews to arrive were confronted with a severe fire, but it died down fairly rapidly."

Although the flames were brought under control, the burning gas main provided a deadly task for the fire crews.

"When I arrived, we were not having much success isolating the supply and conditions were becoming very dangerous," said ADO Cook.

"The only safe option was to withdraw from the premises and arrange with Transco and 24Seven to cut off the gas and electricity. Just a spark could have caused another explosion."


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