Rats! This blaze is so a-gnawing
Posted on April 26, 2007
Rodents gnawing at electrical cables are believed to have caused a huge blaze in Eaton Bray that sparked a massive fire service operation.
A quarter of the county's firefighting team was called into action to quell the flames at the Honeywick Works in Totternhoe Road.
A motorcycle workshop and a cottage were devastated by the inferno, which broke out shortly after 1pm on Thursday.
It took 36 firefighters and five officers two-and-a-half hours to get the flames under control, and they had the added headache of removing nine potentially deadly gas cylinders to prevent a huge explosion.
No-one was hurt in the incident, but an ambulance was kept on standby as the fire spread through the building.
There was no-one in the timberframed building - which contains the motorcycle workshop, a carpenter's workshop and a twostorey cottage - when the fire broke out.
Station Commander Mark Barter, of Dunstable Fire Station, said that a call came in at 1.25pm and a fire engine was on the scene within eight minutes.
"We didn't bring it under control until 4pm," he said.
Mr Barter added that the blaze started between wall cavities and quickly spread.
Crews had to act quickly to remove nine acetylene gas cylinders, and an exclusion zone was set up to keep the public clear.
The fire chief said: "If we had not removed them it would have been extremely dangerous."
Penny O'Grady, manager of neighbouring sign makers Pinstripes, called the fire service after spotting smoke coming from the motorbike workshop.
At first she thought it looked fairly minor, but the blaze soon spread.
"It went up the walls and into the roof, and it just spread across the roof," she said.
"It was really bad. Everyone was frightened it would spread to the other units. It was scary."
Pinstripes lost its phone service as a result of the fire, but was able to continue trading the next day.
But Penny said that the house and the motorbike workshop had been severely damaged.
"There's no roof left, the top floor's all gone," she added.
And carpenter Graham Davis, who rents one of the units in the building, said: "The house has got it the worst, you can't live in there now."
But he added that the damage to his workshop was minimal.
Fire crews managed to salvage a number of custom-made motorbikes and specialist tools, but were forced to withdraw as the fire spread to the first floor of the workshop.
The blaze also hit the cottage, where firefighters using breathing equipment were able to save some of the owner's belongings.
Mr Barter said: "The crews did spend a brief amount of time getting the valuables out.
"We couldn't save everything but we did manage to save some paperwork and some items of personal effects before it was too unsafe."
Crews from Dunstable, Luton, Toddington, Kempston and Leighton Buzzard tackled the blaze from outside, using an aerial platform. Mr Barter said: "The house was severely damaged, the whole of the motorcycle workshop was severely damaged and the roof has collapsed."
He said that a preliminary investigation indicated that rats and mice were to blame.
"It's not uncommon, particularly in older buildings out in the villages," he added.
The fire chief said that regular electrical inspections are a key safeguard, and if anyone becomes aware of rats or mice they should call in pest control to prevent fires like this breaking out.
Source: Dave Burke, Dunstable Gazette, 25 April 2007
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