Nearly 100 people evacuated in fire drama

NEARLY 100 people were evacuated from their homes last night after a highly explosive acetylene cylinder was damaged in a garage fire.

NEARLY 100 people were evacuated from their homes last night after a highly explosive acetylene cylinder was damaged in a garage fire.

In all, 40 households were evacuated and up to 30 people were expected to sleep on inflatable mattresses in a near by village hall.

The drama unfolded when firefighters discovered the cylinder after being called to a fire in a garage adjoining a bungalow in Hornbeam Road, Stowupland.

A major incident was declared and 200 metre cordon thrown around the property to protect people from a possible blast which, according to firefighters, had the potential to blow through a house with ease.

Last night, firefighters were using a thermal imaging camera at a safe distance to monitor the temperature of the cylinder which was believed to be part of a portable welding set.

A man who had tried to tackle the blaze was treated for smoke inhalation by paramedics at the scene.

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Firefighters discovered the cylinder when they arrived on the scene in Hornbeam Road, Stowupland, at about 5.30pm.

Villagers were given less than five minutes by police to vacate their homes and go to Stowupland Village Hall, where a rest centre was set up.

Late last night, emergency services were desperately trying to find a manufacturer of the cylinders to come out and safely remove it.

The fire, the cause of which is still not known, caused considerable damage to the garage but was extinguished before it reached the adjoining bungalow.

Firefighters had to cool the cylinder, which began to chemically decompose after overheating, but they knew the device could explode at anytime.

A handful of residents were last night preparing to sleep at the village hall, while many others living in within the cordon had made arrangements to go and stay with relatives.

Tony and Babara Lyons, of Hornbeam Road, had been out celebrating her 75th birthday with family when they returned to find police had blocked off the road where they lived.

Mrs Lyons, who had to spend the rest of her birthday in the rest centre, said; “This is one I will never forget.''

Mr Lyons said: “We do not know what is happening. We do not know if we are going to be here all night or not.

“It was a bit of a shock when you come home and the road is blocked.”

Fourteen firefighters forming three firecrews were last night still at the scene while 10 police officers co-ordinated the evacuation.

The operation to deal with the incident involved the police, the fire service, the Salvation Army and Mid Suffolk District Council.

Three households refused to be evacuated and stayed inside their homes.

Asst Divisional Officer Pat Dacey, of Suffolk Fire Service, said: “We had a fire in a garage at 5.30pm this evening which was Hornbeam Road.

“The crews dealing with the fire found an acetylene cylinder involved. The issue with acetylene cylinders is if they are involved in a fire they become very unstable and they are explosive.

“An exploding acetylene cylinder could quite possibly throw the front and back wall of a house out witn no problem at all. They are very dangerous in an explosive manner and very unpredictable so the only procedure for dealing with it is to cool it for 24 hours.

“At the moment we are waiting for someone from one of the manufacturers to collect it because of the explosive nature of it we have had to evacuate a 200 metre area.

“It is not something I would recommend people to have in a domestic environment.”

Acting Inspector Neil Ireland said: “As far as we are concerned we attended the incident on the advice of our colleagues at the fire service.

“We evacuated 40 homes which is possibly up to 100 people but there are people out so we are not sure of the numbers.

“Three households decided to stay. We have no power to require them to leave but we have advised them and they taken the decision to stay which we will respect.

William Smith, 87, who lives opposite the affected property in Hornbeam Road, said: “I was watching television and the police came to the door explaining what was going on. They were afraid the bottle would explode and affect the surrounding houses so I was evacuated to the village hall. I wondered what it was all about, It was quite scary.''

Shirley Goodin, who lives opposite the garage where the fire broke out, said: “The police knocked on the door and said we have got to leave.

“It was a bit frightening really. We did not know what was going to happen.''

She said if the situation was not resolved she would make arrangements to stay with her daughter.

Pauline Skelton, who also lives in Hornbeam Road, said: “It is not a nice experience. We would rather be back there than in here. I have never experienced anything like this. We will have to stay here. They (the police) gave us five minutes to get out. It was a bit frightening.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said: “At this stage it is not known how long the evacuation will be for.

“The fire service continue to deal and will be making an assessment of the situation in due course.”

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