'Hero' farmer praised after battling major village fire
- Credit: Terry Harris
Farmer Paul Russell is being praised as the hero of the hour for helping to avert major damage when 100 acres of field, agricultural buildings and a stack caught fire.
Christchurch resident Graham Chappell described Mr Russell as “truly heroic’ for his efforts.
“He came out with some farm machine – with a big bucket on the front – and he was scooting round the village, shovelling soil, and digging channels to protect people’s homes,” said Mr Chappell.
“It was absolutely extraordinary.
“Paul single-handedly really made the difference and carried on with his work well into the night.”
Mr Chappell was in March when the fire broke out and his wife called to say the fire had broken out very close to their home.
When he got back to Christchurch, Mr Chappell was prevented from getting through by fire crews but was assured people were okay.
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“It was a sense of relief,” said Mr Chappell. “But my wife was in a state of shock and feared for the worse as did neighbours beyond us.”
Mr Chappell said: “Eventually my wife was able to get out – but the smoke was intense.”
He said the fire had come within 10 metres of his house across the road.
“We were lucky we didn’t have conifers in front of the house else it could have been a different story,” he said.
Mr Chappell and his wife stayed with family in Welney overnight and has returned to his home this morning to begin clearing up after smoke poured through his windows.
“The scene is apocalyptic in many ways,” he said.
“But for Paul Russell and the fire service it could have been so much different.”
Lee Morris, who lives nearby to where the fire started, was one of those who managed to escape the blaze with his family and pet dogs.
“I jumped in my own car and we headed back down the lane through the smoke,” he said.
“I couldn't see a thing, blasting the horns just in case the fire brigade was coming through the other way or someone was in the smoke.
“We made it through back down to where everyone had gathered in safe-ish spot and was just so relieved to be out there.”
Lee remembered seeing flames and thick smoke engulf nearby houses, wondering if his home would still be standing.
“It was absolute pandemonium at one point, not knowing whether our houses were going to be saved,” said Lee.
“The fire just kept spreading for hours with the thick smoke and knowing we had nowhere to go but back through the unknown; it was truly terrifying.”
Lee’s six-year-old son also escaped the fire as well as his dogs, saying that his neighbour’s house was “feet away” from being destroyed.
And although there has not been a major fire in the area before, Lee admits he was not confident of avoiding any damage.
“I wasn’t confident at all at the time - hence the need to get everyone out ASAP,” he said.
“Just shutting the windows hoping it would pass us was not going to be a good idea at all.
“How we didn’t lose anything I don’t know as the house was covered in ash.”
Lee heaped praise on farmer Paul Russell, who was quick to act once the fire was starting to develop.
“He just jumped in his teleporter and came to the rescue doing everything he could to put barriers in the way of the fire,” Lee said.
“After we had managed to escape our end, I spoke to him and had even picked up one of our dogs leads we’d dropped up by our house in the panic to get out.”
Lee added: “Paul deserves all the praise we can give and I won't have anybody belittling him.
“I know everything turned out okay, but it so nearly wasn’t for us.”
Multiple crews were called to the fire and aerial images capture the extent of the damage caused to the field on Euximoor Drove, Christchurch following the blaze on Sunday.
A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “At 3.41pm, crews were called to a fire involving standing crop on Euximoor Drove.
“Firefighters from Littleport, Ely, Soham, the north roaming fire engine, Stanground, Whittlesey, Wisbech, March, Manea, Chatteris, Ramsey, along with a crew from Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service responded.
“The fire involved around 100 acres of field, agricultural buildings and a stack.”
One crew from the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and RAF Lakenheath also attended, while one farmer used fire breaks from farm machinery to help put out the blaze.
Last night, the spokesperson added crews remained at the scene and kept “a watching brief over the incident”.
Also on Sunday, firefighters were also called to a house fire on Bell’s Drove near Welney.
Crews from Outwell, Downham Market, Terrington, King’s Lynn and Hethersett attended the blaze alongside Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.
It is believed nobody was hurt.