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River drama as barge bursts into flames

PUBLISHED: 18:00 05 December 2002 | UPDATED: 13:08 03 March 2010

LIFEboat crewmen today leapt to the dramatic rescue of three men, a cat and a dog after a fuel-laden barge burst into flames.

The barge's owner deliberately ran it aground in the middle of the river after the fire started shortly before 7.30am.

LIFEboat crewmen today leapt to the dramatic rescue of three men, a cat and a dog after a fuel-laden barge burst into flames.

The barge's owner deliberately ran it aground in the middle of the river after the fire started shortly before 7.30am.

The barge was loaded with four propane, two oxyacetalyne and two oxygen cylinders, along with 150 gallons of fuel.

After a cylinder on board exploded, the spectacle was visible for miles around Chelmondiston and Levington.

As soon as firefighters arrived, they mounted a huge operation as clouds of smoke billowed down the River Orwell from the crippled St Theresa, a 35ft, 100-ton steel-hulled bunker barge used as a houseboat and usually moored in The Cut in Ipswich Docks.

As three teams of firefighters battled the blaze, walls of orange flame could be seen raging down the entire length of the barge.

Fire crews needed to approach from the water to have a chance at stopping the devastation but the firefighters had difficulty getting near enough to do their job as the draft from the fire threatened to draw in any vessel venturing close.

A tug boat with firefighting capabilities from Felixstowe Docks joined the effort. Firefighters also tried from aboard Harwich Lifeboat.

A spokesman for Harwich Lifeboat said: "There were three people on board, a cat and a dog. All persons have been accounted for.

"The owner of the barge was treated by lifeboat crew for smoke inhalation."

The animals involved were also saved but the owner's pet parrot is believed to have perished in the flames, he added.

The lifeboat spokesman said: "I believe they were rescued by a pilot boat and transferred to the tugboat."

Watch officer Tim Smith at Thames Coastguard said a passing boat was first at the scene to help, and the alarm was raised at Harwich Port.

The call came from a low-power radio that had been unable to reach the coastguard, and was picked up by Harwich harbour's working frequency.

He did not know who made the call.

He said: "The people were taken ashore at Levington Marina and an ambulance was requested but they refused treatment."

He said the boat owner, in his late 40s, then left the scene.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Fire Service said efforts were being made to try to find a shallow draught vessel from the Port of Felixstowe to get nearer to fight the flames.

Meanwhile, fire crew were using a featherweight pump and training hoses on to the flames from onboard Harwich lifeboat.

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