Up to 40 firefighters from all over the region raced to tackle a huge rural blaze on the western edge of Market Harborough late last night (Saturday).
Leicestershire fire service was flooded with 999 calls from stunned residents after the blaze broke out by a massive agricultural barn off Steeplechase Way on the extreme edge of Farndon Fields estate at about 10.45pm.
The blaze destroyed about 500 heavy wooden boxes and a stack of vegetable plants belonging to the nearby Farndon Fields Farm Shop.
And it also came with a whisker of burning down the enormous shed, which would have caused a devastating damage.
Police and fire service forensics experts were travelling to the scene this morning in a bid to establish how the fire started.
They are believed to be keeping an open mind – and arson has not been ruled out.
This morning land owner Kevin Stokes, who set up Farndon Fields Farm in 1983, spoke to the Harborough Mail about the shattering blow to the popular family-run local business.
Standing beside his wife Milly among the stinking fire wreckage at the scene, 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.
“We’ve also suffered external smoke and fire damage to our huge barn – and that could have gone up too.
“So thank goodness the fire crews, who were brilliant, managed to save it.
“I don’t want to say too much about what we keep in the shed for obvious reasons.
“If this was caused deliberately then it is a very serious crime,” said the well-known local farmer and businessman.
“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 today as usual.”
Shocked eye-witnesses Peter Pollak, 76, and his wife Fran, 72, called 999 after spotting the dramatic fire.
Fran told the Mail this morning: “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 land 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 a massive response from both fire services either side of the Leicestershire-Northamptonshire border after the alert was sounded.
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 fierce flames.
Crews were at the scene until well after 1am tackling the fire and damping down smouldering wreckage.
Leicestershire Police has been asked for a comment.