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Conifer blaze was 'mindless, not malicious' says fire chief
FIRE chiefs have issued a warning over the dangers of discarded cigarettes and matches, after a tree caught fire in Darlington.
Emergency services were called to a well alight conifer in the front garden of businessman Ken Johnson’s home, in Carmel Road South, at about 4pm on Monday (September 30).
It is thought students from nearby Hummersknott Academy were responsible for causing the fire, although fire chiefs said it was likely to have been started mindlessly, rather than maliciously.
Father-of-two Mr Johnson, 50, who runs a menswear shop in Hartlepool, told how he pulled onto his drive after returning from work, only to find it engulfed in smoke within seconds as the fire took hold.
He said: “I’ve got a massive conifer that now looks like something from a Californian bush fire.
“It went up like a matchbox, luckily the fire brigade doused it.
“The driveway filled with smoke, so I moved the car in fear of it setting on fire.”
Mr Johnson said his neighbours reported seeing two girls in school uniforms running from the scene of the fire.
Hummersknott principal Pat Howarth said there was a ‘strong possibility’ his students had been involved and that the school was supporting police with their inquiries.
He added: "If it is a Hummersknott student, we regret that they were involved."
Crew manager Alan Nixon, of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue, who attended the incident, said: “I can see how [Mr Johnson] might have thought that [the fire was started deliberately].
“I think, based on experience, it was more a case of mindlessness, as if they had been walking past smoking and chucked the end away.
“With this type of tree, they go up really dramatically and it is a big fire, but they only usually last a couple of minutes and die right down.
“They have probably just seen it go up, thought ‘oh my God’, and ran off.”
Mr Nixon said people who start fires maliciously will often make a pile of dry leaves or rubbish to encourage it to burn, which does not appear to have happened in this case.
He added: “It looks more like someone has chucked a cigarette away and it has unfortunately landed in the wrong place.
“If there is any message to come out of this, it would be a warning to be careful with ignition sources, such as cigarettes.”
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