Flames ravage town centre offices

FIREFIGHTERS fought for more two hours against a fire that saw smoke billowing out of an Ipswich town centre solicitors' office today.No one was in the building at the time of the blaze, which took hold of first and second floor offices in Queen Street at around 6.

INVESTIGATIONS were being conducted today into a blaze at a town centre solicitors' office.

Firefighters fought for more than an hour against a blaze that saw smoke billowing out of upper storey offices of Saunders Goodin Riddleston, above the JSM Property Management offices on Friars Street.

No one was in the building at the time of the fire, which took hold of first and second floor offices in Queen Street at around 6.10pm.

A stunned crowd of onlookers rapidly swelled as fire crews from Colchester Road and Princes Street, Ipswich and another from Felixstowe attended the blaze. A turn table ladder was also summoned to fight the flames from above.

Firefighters entered the offices from the front and rear and also hacked through the tile roof with an axe to get to the source of the fire.

Flames could be seen coming out from the roof of the building but were put out around one hour and ten minutes after the firefighters arrived. The fire is not being treated as suspicious and is thought to have been caused by a faulty storage heater.

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Firefighters using a thermal imaging camera entered the building wearing breathing apparatus, although assistant divisional officer Karl Rolfe, of Suffolk Fire Service, said they had no reason to believe anyone was trapped.

He added: "The building was heavily smoke logged when we arrived and it was a little awkward to get to all aspects of the fire because it was travelling through voids, which had to be intercepted. We had to hack through the roof to prevent the fire from spreading further."

Friars Street was blocked while firefighters fought the flames.

Malcolm Tunstall, head chef at nearby Café Blue, was one of onlookers who witnessed the drama unfold.

He said: "When we saw it there was flames coming out of the roof. There was a lot of thick smoke in the air but as soon as the fire crews got here they damped it down."

Steven Reece, who was in the town centre to meet friends, said: "I was near the Buttermarket when I saw the smoke and then I walked along and saw the flames. I saw the firefighters kicking down a door to get in."

Charles Riddleston, one of the partners, said: "There's some fire damage and a lot of water damage, which has gone down from the second floor into the first floor.

"There's damage to the computers and many, many files. Thankfully there was no one in there and there's not a lot of stuff we can't recover. It's all computerised and it should be all backed up."

Richard Hawkins, managing agent of the three-story building, said: "The roof timbers are completely burnt through and you can see right out of the roof."

A full investigation into the fire will be carried out tomorrow morning.