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Blaze rips through boatyard in Broads

PUBLISHED: 19:38 27 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010

The aftermath of the blaze in a shed at Herbert Woods boatyard at Potter Heigham, near Yarmouth. The fire - the cause of which is still unknown - destroyed 13 motor cruisers.

The aftermath of the blaze in a shed at Herbert Woods boatyard at Potter Heigham, near Yarmouth. The fire - the cause of which is still unknown - destroyed 13 motor cruisers.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Mystery still surrounds a massive blaze that swept through a shed at Herbert Woods boatyard, Potter Heigham, near Yarmouth, destroying 13 motor cruisers.

Mystery still surrounds a massive blaze that swept through a shed at Herbert Woods boatyard, Potter Heigham, near Yarmouth, destroying 13 motor cruisers.

Fire service investigators and detectives were at the scene early on Tuesday searching for evidence as to what caused the fire which destroyed privately-owned craft worth nearly £100,000.

Later, it had still to be decided whether a Home Office forensic scientist should be called from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, to assist the inquiry.

An Environment Agency spokesman praised the swift work of boatyard staff and firefighters in placing an inflatable boom across the water to prevent pollution reaching the River Thurne.

She said: “As far as we can see there has been no pollution affecting fish and wildfowl in the river.

“We are fortunate as to the time of year, as thousands of fish overwinter in the basin.”

The boats were being sold by brokers Waterside Marine, which rents moorings in the shed from Norfolk Broads Direct, the operator of Herbert Woods boatyard.

Waterside Marine director John Butler said: “We owned one of the boats and the others, all two to four-berth motor cruisers, were being sold by us for their owners.

“A number had been sold and we very much regret the new owners who had fallen in love with them will not be able to complete the purchase.”

While it was thought all the craft were insured, boats were “very emotive things”, he said.

“This is a tragedy. A new boat shed will be built and in six months the environment will be improved, but that does not alter the fact there are some very, very upset people,” he said.

As well as the 13 boats destroyed, a further cruiser suffered fire damage.

Mr Butler said: “We have no idea what has happened and that is for the fire investigation to find out.”

However, he added that they were careful to remove any materials that could cause fires from the boats and in 15 years selling boats he had never known them to catch fire, certainly without fuel on board.

Fire service station manager Peter Harris, leading the investigation with station manager David Kennedy, said they were not ruling out arson given that there were no electrics within the shed.

However, he said it would be difficult to establish what happened because of the lack of witnesses during the night and the open nature of the shed, which ruled out any signs of forced entry.

He said a decision had still to be made on whether to crane out the remains of the boat hulls to assist the inquiry, although it was difficult to gather evidence from a water environment.

Before any such action could be undertaken it would be necessary to pull down the remaining unstable boat shed structure.

Newcastle holidaymaker John McClen, staying on a cruiser moored at the basin, was the first to dial 999 when he saw the blaze shortly before 3am on Tuesday.

Lewis Williams, a pleasure cruiser skipper who lives in a penthouse flat in the Herbert Woods tower, also saw the blaze take hold.

“There was a big red glow and then lots of smoke. The worst of the damage happened in less than an hour,” he said.

At the height of the fire, eight crews from as far afield as Gorleston and Wymondham were battling it. After damping down, the last crew did not leave until 6.38am.

Norfolk Broads Direct director Reg Reeve said that it would take days to clear all the debris from the water.

He said they would review security but believed they were “as secure as you can be”.


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