Aerial footage shows devastation of Fens fire that destroyed farmer’s crisp factory with ‘generations of work all just gone’
PUBLISHED: 21:02 31 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:47 01 June 2020
Fire chiefs described arriving at Corkers Crisps factory in the Fens to find “a well-developed fire involving a variety of oils in several industrial buildings”.
The call went in at 2.47pm on Saturday and within hours – and well into the night – up to 60 firefighters from three counties fought to contain the blaze.
Paul Clarke, group commander for Cambridgeshire fire and rescue, said: “It was a very serious fire involving industrial units where crisps are manufactured.”
He said there were “a lot of hazards to contend with; it was a rapidly developing fire.”
And one of those was “understanding the current risk of Covid-19 that has also been a major challenge for us, so we’ve made sure we’ve recognised that too”.
The fire has wiped out what entrepreneur farmer and Corkers Crisps founder Ross Taylor described as generations of work “all just gone”.
He told the BBC: “I am shell-shocked, devastated - my family’s whole heirloom has gone.
“My mother lives there and is devastated - it was her father’s and great grandfather’s farm - there are generations of work all just gone.”
He added: “Within two hours the whole site had gone apart from one building.”
It was a far cry from last October when his careful stewardship of the family farm and his successful diversification resulted in a 90-minute visit from HRH the Princess Royal.
He described the visit as his “best day ever”.
Now he’s left to pick up the pieces and decide what the future holds – it is early days.
He’s likely to want to get the business – that employs 80 workers and has an annual turnover of £10m - up and running but recognises that could take time,
“Everyone is just so shocked trying to get to terms with what it means,” he said.
“I’ve never given up so we’ll see how we feel next week when we dust ourselves down - I can’t let it go.”
Crews from Ely, Littleport, Chatteris, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Wisbech, St Neots, Burwell, Cottenham, Stanground, March, Soham and Manea were called to tackle the blaze.
“The high-volume pump, crewed by Gamlingay and Papworth, along with the water carrier from Ramsey also attended,” said a fire service spokesman,
“We were supported by crews from Downham Market and Outwell in Norfolk, Newmarket in Suffolk and the water bowser from the USAF in Mildenhall.”
The spokesman added: “We arrived to find a well-developed fire involving a variety of oils in several industrial buildings. “The crews worked extremely hard in challenging conditions, due to the weather being windy and very hot, as well as difficulty maintaining a water supply.
Firefighters remained at the scene throughout the night and Sunday tackling the fire.
Fortunately, there were no casualties.
The spokesman said: “Once the fire is fully out an investigation will take place to determine the cause. This can only begin once the area is safe and the structure of the buildings have been checked.
Aerial appliances worked through the night to bring the fire fully under control.
Mr Clarke said his crews had been forced to work “in very hard conditions, it was a very hot day”.
He said: “We have managed, by our quick intervention, to save some of the industrial units and I must commend the crews.
“Some of our other additional issues have been high winds which has had an impact on how we deal with the fire, but also with so many firefighters on the scene, understanding the current risk of Covid has also been a major challenge for us so we’ve made sure we’ve recognised that too.”
Corkers Crisps is one of Cambridgeshire’s best loved and most community spirited companies.
The company celebrated its 12th birthday last year with a visit from HRH the Princess Royal.
Corkers Crisps has been at the centre of community efforts during the coronavirus pandemic providing free potatoes to local villagers.
And on Thursday night it sent vehicles to join the NHS truckers’ convoy from Chatteris to Peterborough to celebrate the NHS heroes.
People from as far away as Cambridge, Downham Market, Peterborough and Wisbech all reported seeing large plumes of black smoke.
In its short history Corkers Crisps has developed its iconic brand internationally and is familiar in over 45 countries across the globe - and is still expanding.
Last year’s royal visit was arranged through the lord lieutenant Julie Spence, said Mr Taylor, after she had been advised by one of her former deputies about the company’s success.
She described the fire as “a really sad sight for everyone concerned - my heart goes out to the Taylors and all their employees”.
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