Terror as straw trailer blaze threatens village

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22 Aug 2003

VILLAGERS were faced with a wall of flames after a blazing 30-ton load of straw left a trail of destruction in its wake. Fortunately no one was injured but a converted 19th century chapel was seriously damaged and cars on a nearby showroom forecourt were wrecked.

The drama unfolded last Friday just before 9pm as the 32ft long trailer piled high with bone-dry straw and attached to a tractor approached Bapchild from Teynham.

Tractor driver Martin Munnery stopped in the middle of the village on the A2 when the fire started and managed to unhitch the trailer and move the tractor to safety.

Linda Graham saw the whole trailer go up in flames once it had stopped moving.

She said: "I have never been so frightened. There was a real wall of flame in front of our house and it was licking the top of the lamp-post."

And another neighbour, Janet Clancy, said: "It looked as though the whole street was on fire because of all the burning straw spilling from the trailer."

The blaze engulfed a year-old BMW 325 convertible parked on the forecourt of Bapchild Motoring World. Two other BMWs there were also seriously damaged, and 20 other cars had minor damage.

The chapel, which dates from 1860 and has been converted by Paul and Mary Willis into a home, was also badly damaged. The couple were on holiday in France with their son Aidan.

Mr Willis said: "Two of the rooms are severely damaged and there is smoke damage everywhere. I doubt whether we will be able to move back in until just before Christmas."

Thirty firefighters spent four hours bringing the blaze under control. Trailer owner, farmer John Burden, is trying to find the cause of the fire.

Some witnesses believe it could have been started by a spark from the brakes but farmer John Burden thinks a cigarette end could have been thrown into the 32ft trailer which was piled high with bone-dry straw.

Mr Burden, whose family business is based at Old Rides Farm, Eastchurch, said: "This is the first time anything like this has happened and I can only apologise to the residents and businesses suffering because of all the damage."

Burden Brothers is the largest straw dealer in the South East and the farm moves 20,000 tons a year using eight tractors and trailers. Much of the straw is taken back to their farm from where it is dispatched as winter feed across southern England and across the Channel.

This article and photographs are used with the kind permission of KENT Messenger and The Gazette & Times