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Photo galleries: Update - Investigations get underway into cause of major warehouse blaze at North Pickenham

PUBLISHED: 12:03 02 November 2014 | UPDATED: 16:20 02 November 2014

The warehouse was engulfed in flames before fire crews arrived. Picture: Stephen Huntley/BBC

The warehouse was engulfed in flames before fire crews arrived. Picture: Stephen Huntley/BBC

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Firefighters have spent the night at the scene of a blaze which ripped through a warehouse near Swaffham, causing three propane cylinders to explode.

The fire at the warehouse in North Pickenham. Picture: Stephen HuntleyThe fire at the warehouse in North Pickenham. Picture: Stephen Huntley

Six crews went to the fire, at the 45,000 square foot warehouse of E and S J Walpole Ltd, in North Pickenham, just after 11am on Saturday.

Smoke was still pouring from the remains of the building 24 hours later, as firefighters kept a watching brief.

With members of the Fire Brigades Union in the midst of industrial action, retained crews from Norfolk and Suffolk attended the fire, which has completely destroyed the warehouse.

Smoke billowed from the warehouse, which is used for storage and is on the site of the old airfield, since the blaze broke out.

Fire at North Pickenham. Picture: Paul TibbsFire at North Pickenham. Picture: Paul Tibbs

The plume of dense, black smoke could be seen from as far away as Fakenham. People living in the area said they had heard noises which sounded like cylinders popping.

People leaving nearby were advised to keep their windows and doors shut and Environment Agency staff attended due to concerns about the impact of the fire on water courses.

Norfolk’s chief fire officer Nigel Williams, who went to the scene, said there had been three explosions, believed to be three propane cylinders used to power fork lift trucks.

He said: “Most of the warehouse has been lost. It is falling in on itself. It is a storage warehouse which contains flour and animal feeds, which are on wooden pallets.

“The main warehouse has suffered severe damage and it is almost totally lost, with the fire producing a lot of smoke.

“The owner is here and has been extremely helpful. He let us know that there were three propane cylinders in there and we have had three explosions, which we believe were those cylinders.”
Mr Williams said the fire had been spotted by one of the workers in the warehouse, who had initially attempted to tackle it.

But he said: “He wisely decided discretion was the better part of valour and withdrew, because it had taken hold so quickly.”

He said the presence of the cylinders had made it difficult to get close to the blaze, with crews having to rely on water jets to tackle it from distance.

A spokesman said the crews used jets to put out the blaze, but one appliance has remained at the scene to keep a “watching brief “ overnight.

Firefighters are likely to be at the scene for several days and investigation work is getting underway today.

The fire did not affect the brick-built offices nearby, but did spread to some trailers. Nobody has been hurt.

Family-owned E & S J Walpole Ltd has been involved in the haulage and storage industry for more than 30 years. Its fleet is based in East Dereham and Hockwold in Norfolk and Corby in Northamptonshire,

Fire at North Pickenham. Picture: Paul TibbsFire at North Pickenham. Picture: Paul Tibbs

The company was originally set up by John and Edna Walpole and is now run by their son and daughter Sid Walpole and Alice Snook.

The blaze came as members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), including those in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge continued industrial action.

The union started their action at 6pm on Friday in a dispute over changes to the nation pension scheme.

The industrial action will continue until 6pm on Tuesday, but fire bosses put contingency plans in place, with 999 calls given priority.

The warehouse fire at North Pickenham is of little concern to these pigs. Picture: Iceni PartnershipThe warehouse fire at North Pickenham is of little concern to these pigs. Picture: Iceni Partnership

No FBU members have taken part in battling the warehouse blaze, but crews from Suffolk have provided help to their Norfolk colleagues.

Mr Williams said, given the difficulties with getting near the warehouse to tackle the fire, even if more crews had been available, it would not have made a difference to how the fire was fought.


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