Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Mechanic devastated after blaze destroys workshop

A MECHANIC says he has lost everything after a huge fire at an industrial estate near Watlington.

A MECHANIC says he has lost everything after a huge fire at an industrial estate near Watlington.

The blaze ripped through Brian Ackerman’s workshop at Lys Mill on Sunday night.

Flames leapt up to 200ft in the air after an acetylene gas cylinder exploded and could be seen for miles around.

The building’s roof collapsed and the fire threatened to spread to a storage unit next door.

Firefighters arrived at about 11pm and spent eight hours bringing the fire under control.

At first, they had to withdraw 200m in case any more of the acetylene, propane and oxygen cylinders in the workshop exploded.

Police set up a cordon around the site. The road off Howe Hill leading to the estate was closed during the operation but was re-opened on Tuesday morning.

One fire crew was still at the estate, which is owned by Copas Farms, until Tuesday afternoon.

An investigation into the cause of the blaze has begun but a spokesman from the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said it was unlikely to be finished until the end of the week at the earliest.

He said the cylinder that had exploded blew a hole in a reinforced concrete dividing wall.

Residents of Watlington spotted the flames after hearing a series of explosions at about 10.30pm.

Christian Karl Wolf-La’Moy, of Couching Street, said: “I could see the flames from the window of my house. By the time the fire service arrived it had really taken hold — it was a massive fire.

“It was exciting and pretty impressive. We could see the windows of the factory and the flames billowing out.”

Sarah Pullen, of Britwell Road, said: “I was just going to bed and could hear something that sounded like fireworks. I could see the fire from the end of the garden.

“I could see that there were some blue lights already there so I wasn’t too worried.”

David Griffiths saw the flames as he was driving.

“The smoke was rising really high and you could certainly see it from quite a distance,” he said. “You could also hear loud cracking sounds.”

Mr Ackerman, who lives in Caversham, was in bed when he received a phone call from his landlord late on Sunday night telling him that his workshop was on fire.

He visited the site on Monday night as soon as he was allowed access. He found the workshop had ben gutted. It contained his 1964 Fordson Super Major tractor along with six cars, including his 1999 Jaguar XJ8 which he had spent three years renovating.

Mr Ackerman said: “It’s really raw at the moment and very emotional. I haven’t got a screwdriver to my name but you can’t give up, you’ve got to carry on.”

He has rented the unit for the last two years but has run his one-man business for more than three decades. He has been offered a temporary unit to work from.

Mr Ackerman said: “Everyone down there has been absolutely fantastic and the firemen and the Copas family have been brilliant. My son is letting me borrow a toolbox and the rest I can borrow, more or less.”

Vincent Schofield, whose Rectory Stone workshop is next door to the Certain Exhibitions storage unit, went to the estate early on Tuesday to assess the damage. “Luckily, the fire stopped just before us and our business is saved and there’s been no damage,” he said.

“I feel very lucky but it is a bit of a shock to the system because I have been here 18 years and you don’t think something like this could happen.”

Mains power is unlikely to return to the site until next week but temporary generators have been provided by Copas. A Copas spokesman said: “The fire service must be congratulated on a tremendous job. The main thing is that no one was at the site at the time and no one was injured.

“The main damage occurred in a building which was only used for long-term storage and an adjoining smaller workshop. Alternative workshop premises have been found for the tenant so that no loss of employment occurs. The buildings were insured and will be repaired. Until such times as power is restored to the site we are making generators available and these should be operational by the end of the day.”

A retrospective planning application to use the former feed mill and other storage buildings at Lys Mill for storage and industrial uses has received more than 30 letters of objection.

Many residents are concerned about the number of HGVs passing through Watlington as well as noise and air pollution.

Watlington Parish Council has recommended the application is refused.

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