Arsonists who sparked a devastating fire on farmland on the outskirts of Market Harborough late on Saturday night (June 4) causing £70,000 damage are being hunted by police.
Detectives are launching an investigation after the fierce blaze broke out just feet from an enormous agricultural barn off Steeplechase Way on the edge of Farndon Fields estate at about 10.45pm.
Northamptonshire Police today said that about 400 empty wooden potato boxes and a stack of vegetable plants were “deliberately set on fire” in the criminal assault.
The “raging inferno” also scorched and damaged the outside of the barn, used as a storage warehouse.
Police are now urging anyone who saw anyone acting suspiciously in the area or who knows anything about the arson attack to contact them immediately.
Officers are issuing the urgent appeal after about 40 firefighters from all over the region raced to tackle the blaze.
Some 10 fire crews from across Leicestershire and Northamptonshire battled the fire as fierce flames and smoke tore hundreds of feet up into the dark night sky.
A Northamptonshire Police spokeswoman told the Harborough Mail today: “I can confirm that Northamptonshire Police is investigating a suspected incident of criminal damage which occurred at a farm in Farndon Road, East Farndon.
“Between 6pm on Saturday, June 4 and 12.15am on Sunday, June 5, it is believed that 400 empty wooden potato boxes and vegetable plants have been deliberately set on fire.
“As a result of the fire, damage was also caused to the exterior panels of a warehouse,” she said.
“(There was) an estimated £70,000 of damage to property.
“Officers are asking any motorists who may have been in the East Farndon area between the stated times to check dash-cam footage to see if they have unknowingly caught anyone acting suspiciously on camera.
“Witnesses or anyone with information which could assist with the investigation are asked to call Northamptonshire Police on 101 or alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
“The incident number is 22000320257.”
Leicestershire fire service was flooded with 999 calls from stunned residents on Farndon Fields estate after the blaze erupted.
Police and fire service forensics experts carried out painstaking enquiries at the spot yesterday (Sunday) as they strived to pinpoint how the fire started.
Land owner Kevin Stokes, who set up Farndon Fields Farm in 1983 and owns the popular farm shop on Farndon Road, told us it was a shattering blow.
Standing beside his wife Milly among the stinking fire wreckage at the scene on Sunday morning, Kevin told us: “It is devastating.
“It’s hard to put into words how you feel when something like this happens.
“I rushed out here as soon as I got a call late last night.
“There were flames all over and a lot of firefighters raced here to fight the blaze.
“If this was caused deliberately then it is a very serious crime,” said the well-known local farmer and businessman as two police officers stood nearby.
“But the main thing is that no one was hurt, no one’s been injured.
“So it could have been even worse.
“I’ve just come back here now to see the latest after I was here till 3am this morning.
“It’s been a very long, tiring, worrying night.
“But we want to say a huge thank you to everyone who called 999 to alert the fire brigade and raise the alarm.
“We really appreciate your actions and concerns.
“We’d also like to stress that our farm shop on Farndon Road will be open and operating normally as usual.”
Shocked eye-witnesses Peter Pollak, 76, and his wife Fran, 72, called 999 after spotting the dramatic fire.
Fran told the Mail: “It was just unbelievable.
“We live nearby right on the edge of the estate so it was as if we had a front row seat.
“I was just closing the curtains as we prepared to go to bed when I saw flames in the countryside – and I thought to myself, ‘that’s a big bonfire’.
“So I went outside – and I was rocked back by the heat from the fire, it was that hot.
“Other people were coming out of their homes, people were taking pictures and videos.
“It was just shocking,” said Fran.
“We couldn’t believe what was happening.
“The firemen started to turn up but they couldn’t get through, there was no access, it was too narrow.
“So I had to re-direct them to the site along a country lane off the East Farndon-Lubenham road in the pitch black.
“It was a very dramatic night and one we won’t forget for a long time.”
Her husband Peter, the local Harborough representative of the Open Spaces conservation group, said: “It was a genuine raging inferno.
“It was terrible.
“I just feel so sorry for the owners, it’s hard to take in what’s happened here.
“If this fire was started deliberately I just hope that the police catch who ever did it because this is devastating.”
The incident sparked an overwhelming response from both fire services either side of the Leicestershire-Northamptonshire border after the alarm was raised.
Two appliances from Leicester’s Central station, an engine from Wigston, a crew from Lutterworth, a water carrier from Loughborough, a water carrier from Kettering and an engine from Corby all responded.
A Command Support vehicle from Wigston and a welfare unit from Kibworth also went to the scene.
Specialist HAZMAT (hazardous materials) officers were deployed while firefighters also used two main jets and two breathing apparatus kits to battle the flames.
Crews were at the scene until well into the early hours of Sunday morning tackling the fire and damping down smouldering wreckage.