ONE hundred firefighters were drafted in from as far away as Wisbech to help extinguish one of the biggest fires St Neots has seen in years. A total of 14 fire engines were used to help extinguish the blaze which broke out at the old paper mill in Mill La

Firefighters try to save the remainder of the old mill.
Picture: CAMBS FIRE SERVICE

ONE hundred firefighters were drafted in from as far away as Wisbech to help extinguish one of the biggest fires St Neots has seen in years.

A total of 14 fire engines were used to help extinguish the blaze which broke out at the old paper mill in Mill Lane, Little Paxton, following a suspected arson attack at 7.40pm last Thursday.

The cause of the fire, which destroyed the roof and the first floor of the Victorian building, is still being investigated and arson has not been ruled out.

Nigel Burgess, incident commander based at Wisbech Fire Station who was in charge of tackling the fire, told The Hunts Post it was fortunate no one was injured.

"It's lucky no one was in there as these abandoned premises are frequently used as a playground by youngsters and if a youth had been in the building when this fire started they would have been burnt alive.

"The rate the fire was spreading we wouldn't have been able to save them. The message we should all take from this fire is that unoccupied buildings are dangerous."

Mr Burgess, who has been a firefighter for 36 years, added: "This was a huge fire. It is the biggest seen in St Neots for some time. We probably used between 5,000 and 10,000 litres of water a minute to fight this fire.

"When we arrived the fire was breaking through the roof and filling the roof voids, which had caught on fire and were collapsing and falling through the first floor and onto the ground floor.

"There was no way we could have entered the building to fight the fire as it was too dangerous because the roof and the floor above kept collapsing. From what I saw it appeared the fire started in the roof space."

At the height of the blaze, six jets and two turntable ladders were used. Firefighters also had to pump water from the nearby River Great Ouse and dashed to and from water hydrants to help fight the flames

Until January the site had been occupied by the adhesive manufacturer Scandstick.

Since the company moved out, security at the site had been an ongoing issue for nearby residents.

Lisa Pennells, who lives close to the site, told The Hunts Post: "There has been some concern about security on the site over the past few weeks. We've seen cars driving around the site late at night and believe people have been stripping out the inside of the old factory buildings. Some of the other buildings have also been targeted by vandals and graffiti - the fire is just the latest incident."

A police spokesman said: "We haven't had any reports of thefts from the old paper mill site in the last few months but we have had a few reports of youths hanging around. In these incidents police have visited the site and sent out letters to the youths' parents informing them that they have been spoken to by police."

INFORMATION: Anyone with information should contact police on 0845 4564564 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.