Video and photo gallery: Fire rips through historic heart of Fakenham’s Market Place

Fire in Fakenham town centre.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Fire in Fakenham town centre. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Monday, May 26, 2014
6:00 AM

The community of Fakenham is today coming to terms with the loss of one of its most recognisable buildings after a major blaze ripped through the historic heart of its market place.

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The former Aldiss department store in the centre of the town, which had been home to the Original Factory Shop in recent years, was gutted by fire yesterday in what was described by fire chiefs as the largest fire in Norfolk for some time - and the biggest blaze seen in the town since Tudor times, according to Fakenham’s vicar.

Two people had to be dramatically rescued from the burning building as horrified onlookers stood in shock and disbelief as scores of firefighters fought to contain the fire which broke out just after 10.30am - just minutes after the store opened for its usual Sunday trading.

Fourteen fire crews from across the county created a fire break to halt the spread to adjoining buildings and witnesses described a parked car outside the shop as a “fireball” as it went up in flames.

Meanwhile, a church service was abandoned as the nearby Fakenham Parish Church filled with smoke and people were evacuated from their homes.

It is not yet known how the fire started but firefighters remained on site for more than 12 hours yesterday and said cordons will remain in place today.

Tim Summers, company secretary for Aldiss which still owns the century-old listed building, said he was alerted to the fire when he was driving into Norwich.

He turned around to head to Fakenham and could see the smoke from Bawdeswell. He said the fire was “devastating”.

“It’s still got Aldiss on the masonry and has been associated with Aldiss for pretty much 100 years. It’s a sad day for Aldiss but a sad day for the town as well.”

Town mayor Jeremy Punchard said: “It’s a tragic loss of a beautiful building that’s part of the conservation area. It’s devastating, not only for people who work there but for the town.”

He added: “The fire service has done a marvellous job containing the fire.”

Duty brigade commander David Ashworth said the fire had affected a 70m by 70m area covering three and four floors.

Other buildings affected in the blaze included the former Currys shop which has been empty for more than 10 years and Pedlars Gold plus flats above the properties. It is believed the fire was contained before it reached the Tapping House charity shop.

Phil Berry, station manager for the Urban Search and Rescue (Usar) team in Dereham, said the first crews on the scene from Fakenham rescued a man and a woman.

He said the woman had become trapped in her smoke-logged flat and had to climb on top of a flat roof at the rear of the building before crews could take her down a ladder and to safety.

Meanwhile, a man who lived in a flat above the former Currys building had got onto a roof terrace but had become trapped there. The fire crews managed to get him to safety and checked to see no one else was in the building, said Mr Berry.

Terry Hicks from the East of England Ambulance Service said the man was treated for minor smoke inhalation but did not require hospital treatment and the ambulance service helped to evacuate elderly people living in homes behind the building. One woman was taken to a nearby nursing home.

At the height of the blaze, which could be seen from a 10-mile radius, there were more than 100 firefighters at the scene, including the Urban Search and Rescue team and control unit, plus 11 police officers and ambulance crews.

Have you been affected by yesterday’s fire in Fakenham? Call reporter Kate Scotter on 01362 854703 or email kate.scotter@archant.co.uk.

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