Explosion rips through homes

8th July 2011'GAS EXPLOSION AT RHODES STREET, HIGHTOWN, CASTLEFORD.'PICTURE: MATTHEW PAGE
8th July 2011'GAS EXPLOSION AT RHODES STREET, HIGHTOWN, CASTLEFORD.'PICTURE: MATTHEW PAGE
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SHOCKED residents say they are “lucky to be alive” after a gas explosion ripped through a row of terraced homes in Hightown.

Householders fled in fear as a raging blaze – believed to have been sparked by cable thieves – ravaged properties on Rhodes Street at 1.30am on Friday.

Firefighters from Castleford, Pontefract and Normanton were called to reports of a string of “small fires” on the street, but quickly realised the danger and evacuated 40 residents just minutes before a massive gas explosion.

A 27-year-old Castleford man was arrested in connection with the incident and has been released on bail pending further inquiries.

Alan Johnson, 54, was rescued from his first floor bedroom window. He said: “When I woke up at about 1.30am I heard a sound like a popping noise. When the gas exploded it was terrifying.

“I was stood opposite my house on the other side of the road. There was a loud bang and then it looked as though the house roof flicked up. A window frame and wall came down on the cars. We are all lucky to be alive.”

Mum-of-three Julie Stockwell, 33, who lives behind the row of homes on nearby Mill Street, added: “I was looking out of my window when I saw the blast rip through the houses – bricks were flying and the windows shattered. The whole house shook, it was like an earthquake. We had to be evacuated too. It was terrifying.”

Firefighters said one home was destroyed by the explosion with a further five suffering “extensive fire and blast damage”. The Express understands some of the blaze-hit properties are facing demolition and home owners are in talks with their insurance companies.

Quick-thinking firefighters were praised for using their “intuition” to evacuate residents and withdraw from the properties quickly. Two crew members were left with minor injuries tackling the blaze.

Station manager Mark Allen said: “The firefighters did a fantastic job of rescuing residents so quickly, and it was their skill and training which told them they should withdraw. This clearly saved not only the lives of the residents, but their own lives.”

Power company CE Electric said the blaze may have been sparked by the theft of copper cabling. Police are investigating the incident.

Wakefield Council said it had followed its emergency planning procedures after the explosion and structural engineers had attended the scene.

Council chief executive Joanne Roney said: “We will continue to work with the emergency services to assist the people affected by the incident.

“Having visited the scene, it is obvious that the damage is so severe that it will be some time before those worst affected will be able to move back into their homes.

“Our technical experts are working with the fire service and other services on the investigation into the incident and we hope that families will be able to return to their homes as soon as possible.”

Witnesses or anyone with information should contact police on 0845 6060606.