Chapter 54. The Clarence Street Fire.
At Clarence street at around 10.50 am the fire engines siren could be heard as it moved along the street but not too close to the fire. The fire chief asked the panicking policeman what the situation was and he was informed that there were two people were still in number 7 but the old lady was disabled and bed ridden and would need their special lifting gear to safely remove her. The fire officer soon got his crew to start putting water on the house and the one next to it. He told the police officer that he couldn’t risk sending men into the house as they would be in too much danger as the roof on number 7 looks ready to collapse. Within a matter of minutes, the roof of number 7 Clarence Street and the house next to it number 5 toppled over and collapsed on the top floor of the houses. It would be a matter of minutes until the roof and attic space on the remaining terraced houses would collapse like a set of dominoes falling one after the other.
What made matters worse was that it looked as if the street had been used as a free car park by people working in the town centre and none of the cars could be moved. Some workers were going to have a long walk home at the end of their shift in the town. The fourth car was also well alight, and the petrol tank also exploded sending flames to the other side of the street and setting more homes on fire. Clarence Street looked like a scene out of Aleppo in Syria after the troops had flushed out ISIS but unlike Aleppo hopefully the residents of Clarence Street would be re-housed locally but using the Grenfell tower disaster in London as a guide they would stand more chance of being rehoused in Aleppo than in the fifth riches nation on earth.
With explosion of the petrol tanks on the cars parked along the street the fire was spreading along both sides of Clarence Street. Most of the terraced houses had been converted to flats which had made the developer a nice little packet, but none had any form of fire protection as they didn’t need to have it. Many of the flats were then rented out by local agencies and with the influx of EU citizens many flats were overcrowded with sometime 3 or 4 families living in the one flat. It was impossible for the police or the fire service to find out who owned what and they had done what they could to clear everyone apart from the old lady in number 7, out of their homes. However, some of the flats were shared by none EU citizens and no one answered the front door just in case it was a person from immigration control on the other side.
All the fire chief could do was to aim water at the roofs and the houses that were on fire but he had no chance to control the fire as he had to pull back to the Filler Hill Road end for their own safety. By 11.00 am the scene was ablaze and one old man who had been rescued from number 11 Clarence Street told a local reporter from Bedford Today that it reminded him of the bombing of Albert Street Bedford during the Second World War. He said that he was only 9 at the time and Bedford was bombed on a regular basis by German aircraft that had a few bombs left over from their main bombing run which would have been to one of the Norther cities in England. Thankfully, my parents owned a shop which had a large cellar and we all slept down there during the night.
It wasn’t until around 11.15 am that the fire was brought under control with back up fire crews arriving from St. Neots, Sandy and Biggleswade. They tackled the fire from the Queen’s Street end but again they faced access problems caused by parked cars. It makes you think how many other streets in the UK had the same problem and no doubt that there would be an expensive and slow public enquiry which would hopefully bring new laws in to place so that every street in the land would be able to be accessed by a fire crew, should the need arise.
It wasn’t until 11.25 that the rescuers managed to get in to number 7 and were expecting to find two dead bodies, which they did. It was impossible to check what was left of the bodies as they had been partly cremated by the intense heat of the fire and crushed by falling debris. No doubt the paramedic would be rewarded posthumously for his bravery and maybe as a result all paramedics would be paid better for the fabulous and dangerous job they do.
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