'Like a warzone' - Firefighter reveals battle to save homes in heatwave

Fire crews battle the blaze at Ashill.

Firefighters battle the blaze in Ashill - Credit: conranphotography.net

Arriving in a Norfolk village at the height of blazes which destroyed a dozen homes was like being in a "warzone", one of the firefighters who was at the scene has revealed.

A fire which started in a field near Ashill, close to Watton, rapidly spread to the village itself, covering the village in thick, black smoke.

The aftermath of a field fire in Ashill which has also destroyed a number of homes.

Homes were destroyed in Ashill - but no lives were lost - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Emergency services were called at around 5pm on Tuesday, when temperatures were pushing 40C.

Fourteen fire engines and support appliances, including crews from as far as Merseyside and Tyne and Wear, attended.

One of those who helped tackle the blazes was David Copeland, who has almost two decades of experience with Norfolk Fire and Rescue.

Firefighters are battling a blaze in Ashill near Swaffham.

The fire in Ashill - Credit: conranphotography.net

Mr Copeland, station manager for training and development, said: "I have never been to a warzone, but when you get to a village and see 10 properties on fire and half the village engulfed in smoke, it certainly felt like one.

"It was a once in a career event. I've been with the service for 17 years and I've never seen a fire of that magnitude, spreading as quickly as that one was."

He said the fire had taken about 10 minutes to scorch through about 1,200 metres of tinderbox dry fields and threaten houses.

He arrived about 45 minutes into the incident, when there were four or five main areas of fire in the village and three housing estates at risk.

David Copeland

David Copeland, station manager for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service - Credit: David Copeland

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Mr Copeland praised villagers who left their homes and did not attempt to go back in to get their belongings.

He said he had been to fatal fires where people had died going back into their homes to collect prized possessions.

Mr Copeland said it was heartbreaking people had lost their homes, but the service's priority was always to save lives - so he was pleased none had been lost.

The aftermath of a field fire in Ashill which has also destroyed a number of homes.

Firefighters in Ashill - Credit: Sonya Duncan

And he said: "We saved six houses, which were going to be engaged with the fire. We used a  mixture of water and compressed foam. That enabled us to create a thermal barrier that allowed us to protect the buildings.

"The crews worked extremely hard and I cannot speak highly enough of them or of the employers who allowed on-call firefighters to attend.

"They all went above and beyond the call of duty on that day. And the community spirit of people in Ashill was phenomenal, not only in that they provided welfare for fire crews, but the way they came together to help those who had to leave their homes."