“People could’ve died” - neighbours’ terror at Thetford arson attacks just yards from their homes
16:26 24 August 2014
Horrified neighbours feared their houses would go up in flames after arsonists set fire to trees and fences next to their properties in a series of terrifying attacks on a housing estate.
Residents said the attacks in Elm Road and Kimms Belt, Thetford had put people’s lives at risk and that only a miracle had prevented the fires from spreading to homes just yards away.
The alarm was first raised at 4.53am when Robert Shepherd looked out of his bathroom window to discover an “orange glow” shooting up into the air as the large conifer tree overlooking his home in Elm Road was completely ablaze.
The 26-year-old ran outside with Caroline Gough and knocked on their neighbours’ doors, screaming at them to get out in case the fire spread to their homes.
There was then further confusion as Miss Gough, 25, called the fire brigade and was told they were already on the scene - only to discover they were actually attending a similar fire a few yards away in the same street, where vandals had also set fire to trees.
In total police said there were at least four incidents in the Kimms Belt and Elm Road area but that fortunately none of the nearby properties were damaged - even though some homes and garages were just metres away from the trees which were set alight.
However one of the fires did destroy a garden shed containing tools.
A spokesman for Norfolk police confirmed they were treating the incidents in the early hours of Sunday (August 24) morning as arsons and put flyers through people’s doors encouraging residents to get in touch with any information which might help the investigation.
Gary Jacobs, 63, of Elm Road, who lives next to one of the large trees which was set on fire, said: “We were woken up by my neighbour screaming: ‘Get out, get out.’
“It was frightening. My neighbour was worried about his home being so close to the fire.
“The fire brigade did a brilliant job in putting the fire out but just as they were putting it out, smoke appeared from over the back and someone said another fire had gone off.
“It was just ludicrous. I have never known anything like that. We’ve had petty crime but this something I’ve never, never heard before. It is frightening when you wake up and the great big trees are on fire. That’s scary.
“It’s putting people’s lives at risk. These idiots need to be caught and taught a lesson. They might think it’s a good way to get their kicks but it’s very dangerous.
“I just hope the police catch the perpetrators of this crime. People could’ve died.”
Mr Jacobs added that is was “amazing” some of the homes did not catch fire.
Nikki Turner, 25, who lives in the same block of homes with her one-year-old son Levi Hope, said: “I woke up and wondered what was going on, There was a knock at the door and I suddenly saw fire shooting up. Everyone was saying to get out of the house.
“I was panicking. I grabbed my son and got out with the dog as well. We were then just waiting for the firefighters to take the fire down.
“It was pretty scary. I felt sorry for the people who lived right next-door - it could’ve caught fire to anything. We were lucky the firefighters did what they had to do.
“I don’t believe that someone would actually do that. It is really terrible to think someone would like to put other people’s lives in danger.”
Mr Shepherd added: “I looked out of the bathroom window and saw this orange glow out of the window. I must’ve been the first one to see it. It was right to the top of the tree with flames. It was looking like it was going to spread. You could feel the heat of it.
“We woke everyone up and told them to get out. Everyone congregated on the grass outside until the fire birgade put it out.
“I don’t know how it happened. You don’t expect it. It could’ve been a lot worse - if the fire birgade had taken any longer to arrive, it could’ve spread to houses. It was lucky no-one was hurt.”
Miss Gough said: “The whole tree was covered with flames. We were banging on doors to get the neighbours out. I thought we were going to have to watch our houses burn down. It was awful.
“My daughter was at her nanna’s for the night. She would’ve been traumatised.
“I have lived here three years and I have never seen anything like this before.”
Police are appealing for anyone with information about the incidents to contact them on 101.
Did you see any of the fires? Tell us what happened by calling EDP reporter Andrew Papworth on 07834 839153 or email firstname.lastname@example.org