“Everything was on fire” - factory workers describe heroic bid to save Barry Joy and Daniel Timbers from raging inferno
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Four colleagues battled in vain to reach their stricken friends in the midst of a 'raging inferno' after an explosion at a factory, an inquest has heard.
Exactly two years ago a blast engulfed a new spray booth in the paint shop at the Harford Attachments factory in Spar Road in Norwich.
Production operative Daniel Timbers, 28, was helping paint sprayer Barry Joy, 56, in the spray booth at the time.
Welders working nearby heard an 'almighty bang' shortly after 9am and assumed a bucket or sheet of metal had been dropped - until the factory floor filled with smoke.
Tacker welder Paul Fleming, giving evidence by phone from Thailand, described to Norfolk Coroner's Court how flames had spread 'within seconds'.
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He said he heard the 'very loud and very deep sound of an explosion', in a statement summarised by area coroner Yvonne Blake.
He added: 'It lasted a split second and came from the corner of the paint shop, where a heater is located. Flames immediately shot out of the corner of the paint shop and up several feet into the roof space. Within seconds the whole roof space had flames shooting up several feet from the roof of the paint shop.'
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Mr Fleming evacuated all the welders with the exception of Ben Buckenham, Steve Redwood and Andy Goodwin, who grabbed fire extinguishers and tried to fight their way to save Mr Timbers and Mr Joy.
He said in his statement he was able to look into the paint shop and saw a body on the floor he recognised as Mr Timbers.
'Flames were engulfing the edge of the booth,' he said. 'All four of us grabbed fire extinguishers from the wall and made our way to the door of the paint shop. They were partially open and the bottom was glowing red hot.
'I managed to get the door open because I was wearing welding gloves and could see the wall of the paint shop was a flaming inferno.
'Everything was on fire, even the floor and the chains on the gantry because paint on the chains was on fire.
'It was my intention to go in and recover Dan. I couldn't see Barry and was calling out to him but I couldn't get a reply.
'We fired the extinguishers off into the raging inferno inside towards the body of the person on the floor.'
Tragically, the extinguishers had 'no effect'.
'Black smoke was building up in the roof space and the pipes around the doorway were glowing red,' he said in his statement.
'Steve was about to go in but was pulled back by Andy. Everybody was asking where Barry was and I said I couldn't find him.'
Robotic programmer Mr Buckenham said after he heard the bang, he looked toward the paint shop and saw it 'glowing red'.
'I just thought to get out,' he said. 'I got one foot out of the door and I couldn't see Dan or Barry.
'I looked down the paint shop and could see flames, smoke and part of the floor on fire. Andy had a fire extinguisher and went down to the other end. I got another and went to the same door.
'There were flames everywhere. On the outside I could see a rectangular box glowing bright orange and I thought it could blow up at any moment. Andy said he could see someone inside but there was nothing we could do for him.'
All the witnesses were queried by police about the policy on carrying mobile phones on the factory floor.
Many who gave evidence said they had been verbally told to keep their phones in their lockers but carried them around in their pockets - with the exception of Barry Joy, who always stored his mobile in his locker.
Tacker fitter Ryan Moakes said a month before the fire there was a meeting about the digger buckets. It was decided a stop sign would be put on them to prevent them going into the booth while still hot.
He said July 13 'seemed just like a normal day', except for Daniel covering for his father, Nick, who was off sick.
The court also heard from Graham Crowe, director of East Anglian Forklift Ltd, who supplied three trucks to Harford. He had replaced a diesel truck with an electric one to use taking buckets out of the spray booth, and warned workers not to drive it into the booth due to the risk of sparks. He also moved the charging station away from the booth after the company reported problems.
The inquest, expected to last into next week, continues.
Poignant final message from Daniel Timbers
'Tell Ryan I love him'
That was the final message Daniel Timbers sent to his partner just moments before the explosion that took his life.
The 28-year-old sent a text to his girlfriend Faye Howes at 9.05am, just before the incident.
Their son, Ryan, had been born in May 2013 after the pair rekindled their relationship. In the text he said: 'Tell Ryan I love him and I will see you later,' Miss Howes said in her statement.
She had three children from a previous relationship, who Daniel 'treated as his own'.
'He was really good with the kids,' she said. 'He always kept his mobile phone on him in case anything happened to the kids.'
Mr Timber's older sister, Michelle Vincent, said in her statement he was 'a great dad'.
She added: 'His world revolved around Ryan and he seemed very happy and content. He was happy-go-lucky and would always help out if anyone needed it.'
Barry Joy's son realised he was missing
Barry Joy's 20-year-old son Charlie had been working in the factory at the time of the explosion - after his dad secured him a job at Harford.
As he realised the paint shop was on fire he had to be restrained by fire marshals to prevent him running back into the building, the court heard.
He had seen his dad that morning in his office around 8am and went in for a chat.
'He told me someone had tried to break into his house the night before,' he said in his statement. 'We had a quick chat about it and that was the last time I spoke to him.'
After the explosion, Charlie Joy said in his statement: 'I realised dad and Dan were missing. I think the smoke was too thick by then and it was pouring out of the top of the factory.'
He said he tried to call his mother but he was 'shocked and scared' and 'couldn't speak'.
The last time he had spent any 'real time' with his dad was the day before, he said, when he and his brother Harry spent the day with him.