Aerial pictures show scale of North Pickenham warehouse blaze

The fire at the warehouse in North Pickenham. Picture: Chris Hurdle

The fire at the warehouse in North Pickenham. Picture: Chris Hurdle - Credit: Archant

This is the inferno which faced firefighters when flames engulfed a large warehouse.

A plume of smoke blackens the sky, rising high above the turbines of the wind farm at North Pickenham in the Brecks.

At its height the blaze at E & SJ Walpole's 45,000sq ft depot, between Swaffham and Dereham, could be seen from 20 miles or more away across the county.

Property developer Tony Abel was in the air in his helicopter with photographer Chris Hurdle, who took these incredible pictures from 1,200ft. Mr Abel said they were planning to photograph some building sites in Norfolk, but decided to take a detour when they saw the smoke. He added: 'It was a formiddable sight.'

Workers raised the alarm at around 11am on Saturday. One tried to put out the fire but the blaze quickly took hold in the building, where pallets of flour and animal feed were being stored.

Forty retained firefighters from Norfolk and Suffolk were sent to the warehouse, which stands on part of a former war time US bomber base south of the A47. Six appliances, an aerial appliance and high-volume water pump from Norfolk and Suffolk were deployed. But there was little crews could do beyond contain the fire, which burned so fiercely it melted metal cladding on the side of the 400m-long building.

Norfolk's chief fire officer Nigel Williams went to the scene of the fire.

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He said there had been three explosions, which were believed to have been caused by propane cylinders inside the warehouse, which were used to power fork lift trucks.

'Most of the warehouse has been lost,' he said. '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 put it out.

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 for firefighters to get close to the blaze, with crews having to rely on water jets to tackle it from a safe distance.

People living in neighbouring villages were warned to keep their windows closed as smoke rose thousands of feet into the air.

Firefighters are likely to be at the scene for several days, keeping a watching brief as the fire burns itself out. An investigation into the cause can't get under way until it is safe to enter the depot.

The fire did not spread to offices nearby, but did damage HGV trailers parked outside. Family-owned E & S J Walpole Ltd has been involved in the haulage and storage industry for more than 30 years. Its fleet operates from Pickenham, Dereham, Hockwold and Corby, Northants.

The company was set up by John and Edna Walpole and is now run by their son and daughter Sid Walpole and Alice Snook. An employee at the scene said the company did not wish to comment on the fire.

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