A MUCH-LOVED allotment holder has been tragically killed in a raging inferno that tore through his cabin.
The wooden hut was burned to the ground in just 20 minutes as 15ft-high flames ripped through the plot in Rossmere Allotments, Hartlepool.
The victim of the blaze has been named locally as former soldier Ron White, who is thought to have been in his late 70s.
Police and fire investigators are still probing what sparked the blaze, which saw temperatures topping 800C, but say early indications point to it being a tragic accident.
Cath McCluskey, the former secretary of the Rossmere Allotment Association, said Mr White had been on the site “for decades” and was a big supporter of the charity Help for Heroes due to him serving in the Durham Light Infantry.
She added: “You would never find anyone with a bad word to say about him.
“He had a little mischievous smile and was known and liked by everyone around here.
“All the lads looked after him because he was that bit older than everyone else.
“He was a lovely man and he will be missed.”
Another allotment holder, who did not want to be named, said: “I saw smoke and the next thing I know there’s flames 15ft high.
“I don’t know what’s caused it but it’s awful. He was really well liked.”
People in Armadale Grove where Mr White lived have been left shocked by his death.
Neighbour Philip Green, 49, said: “It’s very sad, he was a smashing chap to know. He was friendly and full of old stories about when he was in the services.
“He used to pass on his bike on the way to the allotments and always used to stop and ‘ask how are you doing’.”
Another neighbour, Linda Ellison, said: “He was just a nice friendly gentleman. He used to put people’s bins out for them. He is the last of the original neighbours in this street. He will be really missed.”
His family were too upset to talk to the Mail.
Stranton Fire Station got the call at 11.41am yesterday after a nearby plot holder reported the flames.
Two engines were at the Brierton Lane site in four minutes and were joined by another crew from Billingham.
Four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus braved the heat to get to Mr White. But he was found dead just outside the doorway of the destroyed cabin.
Station manager Kevin Redhead said: “We were faced with a very well developed fire in an allotment cabin.
“We found one male adult who has lost his life despite the best efforts of our officers.
“An investigation into the cause of the fire is now under way with specialist fire investigation officers and Cleveland Police scene of crime officers involved.”
Temperatures are thought to have reached more than 800C at the heart of the fire as glass was found to have melted and plastic 10ft away had shrivelled in the heat.
Two allotments either side were also damaged.
The exact cause has not been revealed but it is believed the cabin had a stove inside.
Detective Chief Inspector Jon Green, of Hartlepool CID, said: “There does not appear to be any suspicious circumstances at this stage. But as always we will keep an open mind until such time as we can ascertain the circumstances which led to this tragedy.
“My immediate thoughts are with the gentleman’s family at what will clearly be an exceptionally difficult time.
“Fire investigators have visited the scene, together with police forensic experts and these examinations, together with other enquiries, should establish what caused the fire to start in this case.”
Post-mortem results are expected later today.