Photo gallery: Yachts destroyed in Wells boat yard blaze remain at scene of fire
The owner of a boat which was destroyed in a blaze that swept through a Wells boat yard is 'absolutely on his knees', according to the harbourmaster.
Friday's fire spread to two other yachts and caused 'several hundred thousand pounds' of damage.
Harbourmaster Bob Smith said the remains would remain where they are until insurers have inspected the scene, probably early this week.
Thick black smoke billowed from the compound at East End and could be seen as far away as Fakenham by crews on their way to tackle the blaze.
It is thought to have started when the owner of one of the boats – the 30ft Emma Wells – was carrying out routine maintenance work ahead of the new season and was using a heat gun.
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The lining of the boat caught fire and despite efforts by the man and other people at the yard to put it out, the force four north-easterly wind whipped up the blaze and it spread to two other yachts.
All three vessels – which are among about 70 stored in the Wells Harbour Commissioners' compound for the winter season – have been completely destroyed. Damage has also been caused to several other boats in the yard, which is a few hundred yards from the main Quay.
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No-one was hurt. Ambulances and the air ambulance were called as a precaution.
Mr Smith said the destroyed yachts were some of the biggest and most expensive in the harbour, but he said the damage could have been even worse if the fire had not been put out as quickly as it was.
At the height of the blaze, more than 30 firefighters from Wells, Fakenham, Holt and Dereham were on scene.
The rescue boat was called but was not needed.
Firefighters wore breathing apparatus and tackled the fire from inside the compound and also from a footpath which runs above the yard.
The fire broke out just before 11.30am and crews took about an hour to put it out.
They had to stay at the scene damping down and clearing up until about 2pm.
Mr Smith said: 'The wind was a big factor and made it a lot worse.
'The owner tried to fight it but he had to be persuaded to stop. He was fighting for his boat which was his pride and joy but his life was worth more than the boat and he had to acknowledge he had lost it.
'It is a great shame but it could have been a lot worse.'
Bob Hull, who operates the dredger at Wells harbour, said: 'We were walking up from the harbour office and were coming to do some work at the shed and we saw black smoke billowing out and it was well and truly ablaze and there was nothing we could do.'
There are about 70 boats stored in the compound and the view that it could have been a lot worse was shared by Joe Warns, the fire station manager at Wells.
'There were gas cylinders on all the boats which was a danger so we evacuated the area and had to close the footpath.
'There was a significant amount of thick black smoke and the crews from Fakenham could see it as they came up.'
Local people were also warned to keep their windows closed due to the smoke.
A big crowd of onlookers gathered near the scene.
Ricky Frary, who lives nearby, said: 'I was at home and I saw loads of black smoke coming from the boat compound.
'I ran upstairs and looked out of the bathroom window and could hear lots of shouting and movement from various people in the compound.'
Mr Frary added: 'There was the sound of canisters and gas bottles exploding and also the masts from other yachts falling down on top of other boats.'
Eyewitness Mark Potter, 49, of Cromer, was on a day out with his family in Wells when he spotted the thick smoke rising.
He said: 'We couldn't see the flames, but there was smoke coming from behind a couple of big sheds. It was very thick black smoke, as if it was diesel burning, and it seemed to cover the whole of Wells.
'The firefighters were having to run the engines from one end of Wells to the other to fill them up from the hydrant.'