Timber yard suffered £50k damage in arson attack

Seaton Carew Prop Yard fire May 1972.
Seaton Carew Prop Yard fire May 1972.

Flames shot 40ft into the air as 100 firefighters from across County Durham tackled a blazing inferno at a Seaton Carew timber yard.

But, despite using the latest in high-tech equipment - as well as water from Seaton Baths - it still took six hours to bring it under control.

Seaton Carew Prop Yard fire May 1972.

Seaton Carew Prop Yard fire May 1972.

“At its height, the fire was hot enough to melt cast iron,” said Mr A.M. Green, Hartlepool’s chief fire officer back in May 1972.

“We had some problems with the wind changing direction and, for a time, it looked quite bad. But a far worse blaze was averted due to our plans.”

Problems at the Seaton prop yard - owned by Fenwick and Co (Hartlepool) Ltd - where first spotted by a passerby just after 2.30pm on May 6, 1972.

Joe Howey, 46, of Eastview Terrace, was enjoying a trip out with his children to the beach when he suddenly saw smoke coming from the yard.

“I ran up the road, and I could see it was going to be a big fire. A motorist gave me a lift to a phone box and I called the fire brigade,” he said.

Within minutes the alarm had been spread to all neighbouring areas, with firefighters from Teesside, Durham, Darlington and Sunderland called in to help.

Off-duty firemen and Fenwick’s workers, who read of the blaze in the Stop Press section of the Mail that day, also raced to the yard to help out.

And, as firefighters tried to douse the flames, so workers used two cranes to move thousands of tons of timber away from the fire.

“I have had plans in mind for just such a fire for some time,” Chief Fire Officer Green told the Mail.

“I had planned we would use water from the nearby Seaton Baths and, after making that decision, we had to break in to get at the water quickly.”

Although the blaze was finally brought under control just before 9pm, some 17 fire appliances remained on site overnight to ensure the safety of the yard.

Police then launched an appeal to trace four “suspicious youths” seen at the site, who, officers believed, were responsible for the £50,000 arson attack.

“I would like to pay tribute to all the firemen - both from Hartlepool and other brigades - who did such a magnificent job,” added Mr Green.

Firefighters worked for ten hours to finally extinguish the huge blaze, using all of the water from the nearby swimming baths in their efforts.

Coronation Drive had to be sealed off as hoses were stretched across the road to reach water hydrants. Plans to use sea water were not, however, needed.

The following day, as timber yard continued to smoulder, a police spokesman revealed: “We are treating this as arson. It was deliberate.”