05/12/2006

Fireworks factory fire investigators waiting for access

Investigators are waiting to gain access to the scene of a fire at a fireworks factory at which two firefighters were killed.

No one has been able to enter the site because of fears that 20 gas cylinders on the site could explode. They have been left to cool down before investigators will be allowed onto the site.

The blaze at the Festival Fireworks factory near Lewes in East Sussex broke out on Sunday afternoon. The explosion at the factory was so large that people living 12 miles away heard it. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Two members of the fire crew were killed in the blast. Brian Wembridge, 63, was a retired firefighter who was working as a support officer and photographer for East Sussex fire and rescue services, while Geoff Wicker, 49, was a control room staff members and a retained firefighter.

Twelve people were also injured in the fire. Only one person remains in hospital - a 39-year-old man from Uckfield who was passing-by at the time of the blast. His 23-year-old son suffered minor cuts.

Tributes have been paid to the two firefighters, who were both based at Crowborough fire station. Roger Bradgate, a former sub-officer at the station, told reporters that he was devastated by the deaths. He said: "Both of them worked tirelessly for others on behalf of the Fire Service National Benevolent Fund and in their service with the brigade, caring for others all the time."

On Tuesday, it emerged that the firm that owns the factory was previously fined for storing explosives without a license. Festival Fireworks was fined £1,000 in 1999 under its previous name Sussex Fireworks and Displays Limited, the Health and Safety Executive announced.

According to the HSE, the firm had admitted storing fireworks at Upper Lodge Farm, a building adjacent to the site which was not covered by their license.

The HSE said that the site had last been inspected on October 11 and currently has a license covering three buildings on the site.

(KMcA)

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