Great Britain

Massive blaze, floods and two storms make for hectic February for firefighters

FIREFIGHTERS have faced three “exceptionally busy” weekends - having to deal with a huge blaze, storms and floods.

And they are preparing for more flooding this weekend.

At a meeting of West Yorkshire Fire Authority yesterday, members heard of the hectic few weeks faced by fire crews since the start of February.

That included dealing with Storm Ciara, Storm Dennis, flooding across West Yorkshire that required dozens of people to be rescued and the Speedibake fire in Wakefield city centre.

Dave Walton, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, was discussing the major incidents the service has been called to in recent months when he gave them an update on the hectic February.

It began on Saturday, February 1 with a huge fire at Speedibake in Wakefield that not only badly damaged the building, but also led to plumes of smoke billowing over Wakefield city centre. Mr Walton said heavy winds meant the smoke didn’t rise, but instead led to much of the centre becoming heavily smoke logged.

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Over 20 crews from across West Yorkshire, including Bradford, Odsal and Cleckheaton, were called to the incident.

He said: “It was a very challenging fire to tackle and had a significant impact on the centre of Wakefield.

“The incident was not closed until the Wednesday, as the building required some demolition work. All this was hampered by very stormy weather.”

The next weekend saw crews mobilised to deal with Storm Ciara - which led to major flooding across West Yorkshire, including in Ilkley, the Aire Valley and Calderdale.

Mr Walton told the meeting that over the weekend the service was called out to 86 reports of flooding and 13 reports of dangerous structures.

Officers had to rescue 63 people from flood waters, and helped 20 people evacuate a caravan park in Esholt. In total there were 790 local 999 calls over the weekend.

Last weekend saw Storm Dennis arrive in the UK. Although more extreme weather and flooding was predicted, Mr Walton said: “It never quite lived up to the warnings, but we were prepared and had an enhanced command structure in place, and were prepared for floods in Calder Valley and Ilkley.”

The Army had sent support in West Yorkshire to prepare flood defences.

He added: “We’ll be keeping a close eye on river levels this weekend. We do have plans in place should the worst occur this weekend.”

The authority was told that due to the service’s shift pattern, it had been the same crews working all three weekends.

Mr Walton added: “They have been exceptionally busy over the last few weekends.”

He said the Army had provided a valuable resource during the floods. Councillor Jeanette Sunderland (Lib Dem, Idle and Thackley) had been with some flood victims, and said:” When the army arrived they lifted the mood. People felt ‘they’re here now’ and the whole mood of the area changed. People though things would finally be dealt with.”

Mr Walton praised the army for its help, and said members had apologised to the emergency services, as they were “embarrassed” to have received most of the publicity during the flooding rather than firefighters.