Fear of ‘explosion’ as crews battled flames at Pulborough house fire

JPCT 141013 House fire, Gay Street Lane, North Heath, near Pulborough. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 141013 House fire, Gay Street Lane, North Heath, near Pulborough. Photo by Derek Martin

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A main road was closed and preparations to set up a cordon took place after fears of an explosion during a blaze which wrecked a home in Pulborough.

Around 40 firefighters and eight engines from across the county attended Gay Street Lane on Monday afternoon (October 14).

JPCT 141013 House fire, Gay Street Lane, North Heath, near Pulborough. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 141013 House fire, Gay Street Lane, North Heath, near Pulborough. Photo by Derek Martin

Flames engulfed the roof of a house and a garage at around 12.30pm.

The only occupant, Chris Merry, escaped but suffered smoke inhalation.

A cat has not been accounted for.

“When the crews were a distance away they could see quite a developed fire,” said Gary Locker, control operations group manager based in Horsham, who was on the scene.

JPCT 141013 House fire, Gay Street Lane, North Heath, near Pulborough. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 141013 House fire, Gay Street Lane, North Heath, near Pulborough. Photo by Derek Martin

On route to the incident, Mr Locker and his crew received information that there was an acetylene cylinder on site.

The gas - commonly used for welding - presents a huge problem for firefighters.

“It can cause a massive explosion,” Mr Locker explained.

“It ruptures and takes off like a rocket in any direction.”

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has procedures set in place to deal with such hazardous incidents.

A 200 metre cordon must be set up if cylinders are at risk of exploding.

A decision was taken to close the A29 Stane Street between Codmore Hill and the B2133 Adversane Lane junction as this would have fallen in the exclusion zone.

Crews discovered the cylinder was a MAP cylinder which carries a much lower percentage of acetylene and does not pose as much of a risk.

This and an oxygen cylinder were made safe as firefighters - 14 of them wearing breathing apparatus - spent around three hours battling the flames.

Four water jets and two high pressure hose reels were used.

The road remained closed to allow space for the engines.

Mr Locker said the house was left ‘inhospitable’ after the incident.

Around 100 per cent of the first floor was destroyed.

Much of the ground floor suffered fire damage and was flooded.

Crews spent the afternoon dampening down the area and cutting away debris.

“One cat was unaccounted for,” said Mr Locker.

“But my experience is that cats tend to find their own way home.”

He added: “It was a significant incident that we had a fair percentage of resources at to deal with it suitably.”

Fire crews from as far away as Lancing left the scene at around 5pm.

Police re-opened the road later that afternoon.

Support and assistance for the occupiers of the property was provided by the Red Cross Fire and Emergency Support Service.

At the time Chris Merry told the County Times: “I don’t feel brilliant about it - I’ve had better days.”

Mr Merry, who suffered smoke inhalation but did not require hospital treatment, believes a battery charger was the cause of the fire.

“The house and the roof are ruined,” he continued, “there’s an inch of water everywhere.”

A spokeswoman for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze is being treated as accidental.

The service was unable to carry out a fire investigation straight away because the garage was not structurally safe to enter.