FAMILIES have told how they fled their homes in the middle of the night as a fire in Selston threatened to ignite a store of gas canisters.
An investigation has begun into the cause of the blaze, which spread through a shed and garage off Nottingham Road shortly before 2am on Monday morning.
Police knocked on the doors of homes within 200m to evacuate 56 people as Eastwood and Ashfield firefighters tackled the flames and then tried to cool the canisters inside the garage.
Residents were initially given shelter in Selston Leisure Centre. Some later stayed with relatives, while others were put up in a hotel overnight on Monday.
Gaynor Christian, 49, whose house is around 50m from where the blaze started, to the rear of one of her neighbour’s properties, dialled 999 after being woken by the sound of the fire.
“The flames were high, well above the roof of the house, and we could hear hissing and could smell what we thought was gas,” she said.
“It’s not something I ever thought I’d see.”
Her daughter Melissa Smith, 21, added: “I heard my mum on the phone, looked out of the window and all I could see were flames coming over the bushes.
“We didn’t have time to grab anything and saw the emergency services coming down the road and flagged them down.
“My step dad went back in to get the dogs and by this time there were a couple of ambulances, fire engines and police cars everywhere.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was terrifying.”
Two people were taken to hospital as a precaution, but no-one was seriously hurt in the incident. Nottingham Road was closed near the scene after the cordon was put up.
Firefighters said the flames had threatened to overheat a cylinder of acetylene, commonly used in welding, and five other cylinders which had not been identified.
After the fire was quickly put out, the cordon remained while firefighters gradually cooled the containers with water and monitored their temperature.
Ashfield Fire Station manager Richard Cropley said: “It could have been too dangerous to allow people to return to their properties too early.
“We monitored the situation throughout, checking the temperatures of the cylinders. Acetylene is easily ignitable when exposed to heat and can explode.”
He added fire investigators were now trying to establish how the fire started, although arson is not currently thought to be the cause.
The cordon was twice reduced before all remaining residents were allowed to return to their homes around 9am Tuesday morning and the road was re-opened – with Ashfield District Council and Nottinghamshire County Council also involved in planning how to look after the evacuees.
“We can’t praise the emergency services enough, and all the people who helped us,” said 70-year-old Melvyn Berrisford, when he returned to his Nottingham Road house with his wife Gene, 65.
“We are relieved everyone is back and ok. I heard such a bang as we were coming out of the house during the fire.”