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Sunday, 21 December 2014

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Off-duty fireman stops Cumbrian sawmill going up in flames

The quick-thinking actions of an off-duty firefighter stopped a sawmill from going up in smoke today.

Retained firefighter Paul Steele first thought he was driving through freezing fog at around 5.35am, but then realised something was seriously wrong.

Looking back in his mirror while driving to work along the A6071, Mr Steele realised that smoke was billowing out from the back of the Audek Timber Products fabrication site near Longtown.

He pulled over and called 999. Within minutes, colleagues he works with as part of the Longtown crew arrived at the scene.

A short time later employees began arriving for their 6am shift, surprised to find firefighters already there tackling a blaze.

Fire crews from Carlisle East and West stations and from across the border at Gretna swiftly joined the efforts, with around 20 firefighters tackling the blaze at its height.

The fire has gutted the part of the plant where the fan was, but several people at the scene this morning said that Mr Steele’s actions helped prevent the outcome being much worse.

Piles of blackened and charred timber were dotted around the site as Longtown firefighters continued to dampen down the area.

The structure was still unsafe and a cordon was put in place to keep people away.

Charles Mossop, owner of the family-run business, is now contacting insurers and plans to meet with Mr Steele to personally thank him.

Mr Mossop said: “We know someone who regularly passes at 4.30am and they’ve told us they didn’t see anything, so it must’ve happened between then and when Mr Steele went through an hour or so later. The fire crew told me it has been caused by an electrical fault in an extractor fan.

“I want to thank him very much. I know this could’ve been a lot worse.

“A few of the lads were starting at 6am and arrived, shocked to find the firefighters already here. I got a call, I was meant to be coming in around 8am. We’ve been busy so the lads were starting early, otherwise we’d be in at eight.”

He added: “The sad thing for me is that my father Derek passed away a fortnight ago and the last of his wood, the wood he used to hand-make furniture here, has gone.”

Watch manager Kevin Byers, from Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We’re dampening down here but the structure is not safe and no-one can go in until the insurers have had a look at it.

“It is likely the part with the wooden timber structure above will have to be pulled down.

“The fire broke out in a sealed unit here so we’ve been able to contain it – but this could’ve been a lot worse.”

Mr Steele, a forklift truck driver at the Sinclair Horticulture peat extraction site at Bolton Fell Moss, said: “It was a frosty morning and I thought I was going through a bit of freezing fog, but as soon as I was in it then it was clear again, so I knew it was something else.

“I looked back and saw smoke coming up out of the back of Audek. I could see the clear skylights and the embers glowing in so I turned back and called it in. When I stopped and got out that’s when the flames starting coming through.

“There are obviously people that will have driven past and maybe not realised.”

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