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Suspicious fire results in explosion

05 October 2011

Fire investigation officers have revealed that a recent incident at Purdeys Industrial Estate in Rochford, Essex, was started accidentally but in suspicious circumstances. It appears that would be thieves were using hot cutting equipment to break into the container, storing 1.5 tonnes of fireworks, triggering the blaze. The matter is now being investigated by Essex Police.

Initially, a 400 metre exclusion zone was put in place after crews were called to the incident involving a 40 foot container.

Soon afterwards, crews reported that the roof of the container, was bulging and that smoke was issuing from inside. Because of the risk of explosion, firefighters were withdrawn to a safe distance and residents advised to leave their homes.

"This is a licensed operation and the fireworks are appropriately boxed and stored," said Senior Divisional Officer Matt Furber. "The owner is on site and assisting crews with information. From information provided by a Police helicopter which has been over the site using thermal imaging technology, the container is hot and there remains a risk of explosion. It is a case of playing a waiting game now that we have dealt with issues involving public safety and the safety of our own crews."

Firefighting robots tackle the blaze. Picture courtesy of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service
Firefighting robots tackle the blaze. Picture courtesy of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service

A team from QinetiQ attended the scene and specialists used robotic technology to get close to the container for surveillance and gather data to assist officers in evaluating the stability of the container.

Before long, the container exploded and an additional eight appliances were sent to the scene

A joint Police and Fire Service investigation is now under way to establish the cause of the incident. Inspector Andy Clarkson said: “This fire is being treated as suspicious and police officers have started the process of obtaining and viewing CCTV from local firms in the area. However, there is no definitive cause of the blaze as yet.

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