Retired firefighter looks back at four-day Thetford factory blaze 30 years on
- Credit: Archant Library
A retired firefighter has recalled one of the largest blazes he ever helped to tackle, as this year marks 30 years since the incident at Thetford’s D&L Plastics.
It was a fire which took around four days to get under control and saw crews from across Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and even the United States Air Force and Royal Air Force rally to help.
The fire started at D&L Plastics, in Burrell Way, on October 11, 1991, and it is estimated that a total of 51 appliances and 235 personnel attended.
Kevin Kiddell, was a firefighter based in Hethersett for 32 years, and his crew was among those called to the scene.
The 64-year-old said he worked about 40 hours across a total of three days.
“You could see the plume of smoke well before we got to Thetford,” he said. “We reported to a rendezvous point on London Road and we were sent to the Elveden side of the incident which was accessible through a fire route in the forest.
“We fought the fire from there. That involved climbing over a fence and taking a main jet with us. The heat was so intense we were hiding behind fork lift pallets trying to fight the fire, shielding.
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“Every now and again there would be a swirl of wind and the smoke would come down and it would go completely black like night time – but it was in the middle of the day.”
According to a report by the Institution of Fire Engineers, 52 emergency workers visited hospital during the incident, including 31 from Norfolk Fire Service, 13 from Suffolk Fire Service and four from the ambulance service.
Four members of the public also went to hospital and 64 United States Airforce personnel were checked over at their airbase hospitals.
The report states: “On Sunday 13th October a fog descended in the Thetford area.
“Specialist advice received at the time indicated that there would likely be two effects of the fog, in that the fog would absorb the Hydrogen Chloride (HCl) but also create ‘a form of acid rain’.
“Some personnel on the fire ground had been experiencing an ‘acid taste’ and as a result of this all-fire service personnel were withdrawn from the scene until the fog had cleared, and conditions had improved.
“The result of the cessation of fire operations caused the fire to regrow and a further 10 pumps were requested.”
On Monday October 14, damping down continued until the next morning when the fog descended again, and crews were again temporarily withdrawn. The incident was closed later that day.
Mr Kiddell continued: “Quite a few firemen got hurt – suffering acid burns due to the burning plastic and smoke mixing with the atmosphere.
“No one was seriously injured but some people had skin problems after. There was quite a bit of damage because of the fire but also the pollution from the incident.
“In terms of how difficult it was, the risk involved and how long it took to put out, that was probably the worst fire I attended in my 32 years.”