West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has taken the bold step of releasing CCTV footage of the moment a house exploded, just yards from firefighters and the residents they rescued seconds earlier.
The explosion was caused by interference with an overhead electricity line by thieves attempting to steal the copper conductor.
The service has joined forces with CE Electric UK, Northern Gas Networks and West Yorkshire Police to warn about the dangers of tampering with electricity and gas equipment.
The shocking footage, which can be viewed at: www.westyorksfire.gov.uk/safety-campaigns/castleford-explosion, and www.thefirechat.com was captured by the brigade's silent witness cameras, attached to fire engines, during an incident in Rhodes Street, Castleford, last Friday July 8. Crews had been called to reports of a small kitchen fire, but when they arrived found a string of small fires in a row of six terraced houses. Firefighters quickly rescued the occupants from all the houses, including two people from upstairs bedrooms using ladders. As the film shows, only seconds later an explosion tore through the row of homes.
Around 30 people were evacuated, two houses were partly demolished and four further houses suffered extensive fire and blast damage. One firefighter was taken to hospital with minor cuts.
Investigations have revealed that the blast was caused after a piece of cable was cut from an overhead line. This affected the earthing of the electrical network in the area and resulted in some unusual electrical activity, which affected some of the gas pipes within the properties. This resulted in the fires and explosion. The service take firefighter safety extremely seriously, and released the video in the hopes that it would highlight the dangers of cable theft. Area Manager, Ian Bitcon paid tribute to the professionalism and skill of the firefighters on the day.
Ian Bitcon, WYFRS Senior Operations Response Officer told FIRE: "If the house had exploded only seconds earlier, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have killed or seriously injured the occupants and the firefighters who were risking their lives to rescue them. We can't stress enough how devastating this could have been. Instead, they lost their homes and possessions rather than their lives.
"We have already had one fatality as a result of cable theft. If people continue to tamper with equipment on the electricity network, it is only a matter of time before more people die."
The incident in Castleford last week affected the electricity supply to 63 properties and the gas supplies to 55 properties.
Geoff Earl, CE Electric UK's head of health and safety, said: "As a company, on average we are dealing with around five incidents of metal theft on a daily basis. We cannot stress enough how dangerous it is to tamper with electrical equipment on the network. These incidents are a real threat to public safety.
"We are pleading with these thieves to think about the consequences of their actions and how much they are risking for such a small return, especially in the light of the recent fatality in Leeds. You really cannot put a price on your own life."
Northern Gas Networks Director of Health Safety and Environment Dave Hutchison said: "This footage sends a clear message to metal thieves targeting electrical and gas equipment - don‟t do it. It is extremely dangerous and threatens lives all for the sake of a few pounds."
"We continue to see a concerning increase in the number of metal related thefts on our gas network which not only endanger lives but disrupt gas supplies and communities. Our top priority is safety and we always send an engineer to respond to a gas leak within an hour of it being reported. If you smell gas please don‟t leave it to someone else to report, call 0800 111 999 immediately - it could be a life-saving call."
DCI Phill Wright, Crime Manager of Wakefield District Division, said: "The consequences of an act like this could have been extremely serious. I would urge anyone who has any information about cable theft to contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111."
Posted: 15.45, 15.7.11, firstname.lastname@example.org