Firefighters have spoken about major challenges tackling the house and garage fire on the Causeway on Monday evening.
The fire completely destroyed Wayside, a house and garage owned by Mel and Susan Dolby, where the family lived and operated a wedding car hire business using classic cars.
The home and around 10 cars have been completely destroyed. Mr Dolby has been treated in hospital for smoke inhalation and is having further health checks. The family’s four dogs were rescued.
The emergency call came in at 6.05pm and the first crews in attendance immediately requested further fire engines to attend.
The fire had started in the garage and rapidly spread throughout the large garage and to the house owing to the strong winds and a fuel tank igniting.
The garage contained a number of cars, including vintage Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, which were all burnt out.
Group commander Sean Brown, incident commander, said: “This was a particularly difficult fire to tackle and was exacerbated by strong winds, cylinders in the garage and the need for a large water supply. We used a relay of fire engines to bring water to the scene from a nearby hydrant and the fire was under control by 10pm. Sadly the fire has completely destroyed the garage, its contents and the adjoining house.”
The incident was scaled down shortly after 11pm.
Two fire engines remained at the scene overnight with firefighters monitoring the remaining hot spots which crews were unable to access due to the unstable buildings.
The cause of the fire was accidental.
An eyewitness was critical of firefighters, claiming that they didn’t seem to respond vigorously at an early stage and they could not find the fire hydrant, which meant they ran out of water.
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service said: “Firefighting is not a straight forward task. There are many factors to consider when planning tactics for dealing with it and each fire will be different depending on location, weather, water supplies, what is burning, whether people are trapped, and the risk to firefighters, etc.
“The first crews attending immediately requested further fire engines and straight away attempted to tackle the fire using a powerful water supply. They also tried to protect the house.
“There was an unexpected significant fuel leak in the garage, which ignited and created an intense, rapidly developing fire situation within four minutes of the crew attending. The fuel leak and strong winds caused the fire to rapidly spread and within a few minutes of crews arriving the house had caught fire too.
“Another complication was the fact cylinders were in the garage and these can explode in a fire situation, posing a significant risk to firefighters and members of the public. For safety crews had to retreat.
“Initial water supplies ran out before back up fire engines arrived and the crew had to source another water supply. The hydrant was hidden in the overgrown verge. Once located, the hydrant was used as a water source and when additional fire engines arrived, a water shuttle was put in place from another hydrant further away.
“The initial call came in at 6.06pm and the first crews arrived at 6.17 and 6.18pm. Followed by further crews at 6.30pm, 6.31pm, 6.44pm, 6.47pm, 6.51pm and 6.52pm.”
Around 60 firefighters tackled the fire and the A47 remained closed for about 10 hours.
Thorney’s fire engine was not involved in the operation. A CFRS spokesman said: “It was not available at the time when resources were requested. This is because there were not enough Thorney firefighters available to crew the fire engine.”
It remains unclear why the hydrant could not be located. An overgrown verge was blamed by the fire service and this section of road was resurfaced more than a year ago and verges re-instated. Hydrant inspection and testing is the responsibility of the fire service. Any defective or unavailable hydrants are reported to Anglian Water and it is their responsibility to repair them.