ELDERLY residents were evacuated after an early-morning wheelie bin fire spread to a bungalow today and sparked a gas blaze.
Police and fire chiefs say it was only by “pure luck” that a patrolling police officer saw the blaze, in Maxwell Road, in Hartlepool, and managed to raise the alarm and get the occupants out.
They say there could have been a fatality had it not been for quick-thinking Acting Inspector Gary Cowan’s actions.
The cause is being investigated, and police are appealing for information about how the blaze started.
The fire burned through a gas pipe and sparked the blaze and the road had to be cordoned off between its junctions with Owton Manor Lane and Moffat Road.
Eleven elderly residents, including some in wheelchairs, were evacuated from the Housing Hartlepool-run bungalows when the fire broke out around 4.30am today.
Most sought refuge in St Patrick’s Church Hall, before later being moved to the Laurel Gardens housing complex in nearby Marlowe Road, as gas enginners worked to cap the supply.
Acting Insp Cowan was on patrol in the area around 4.30am when the drama unfolded.
He said: “As I arrived I could see flames going up the front of the bungalow.
“I had to wake the elderly female resident up and get her out.
“I then called for assistance from other officers and the fire brigade and the other bungalows were evacuated, which included a lot of disabled people in wheelchairs.
“We had to force the doors of some properties to get to residents.
“These were all elderly residents who were asleep and there could have been serious consequences.
“It was by luck that that was where I happened to be.”
Two fire engines from Stranton Fire Station attended the scene.
Watch manager Jason Wood said: “The fire involved a gas main. “It burned through the gas pipe resulting in flames ensuing outside the property.
“We had to let it burn out before extinguishing it as it would ignite somewhere else.
“If the patrolling police officer wasn’t there, it could have led to a fatality. “He has done a good job.”
He urged residents to keep their wheelie bins away from their homes to prevent similar incidents.
Extensive damage was caused to the front of the property.
A Housing Hartlepool spokeswoman said: “We are pleased no-one was hurt.
“We thank the emergency services for their response and will assist them in their inquiries.”
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call Hartlepool Police on (01642) 326326 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.