Explosion update: Blast blew house to smithereens

Joseph Bulmer

Two airlifted to burns unit after a massive gas explosion destroys a Barnstaple house

“ABSOLUTE carnage” was how a neighbour described a massive explosion that ripped through a house in a quiet Barnstaple street in the early hours of this morning.

Two men have been airlifted to a specialist burns unit in Swansea after a suspected gas explosion blew apart their home in Trinity Street at around 4.20am.

The roof and most of the second floor of the house, which was divided into two flats, is gone and lethal debris, chunks of masonry and timber rained down on neighbouring properties - some even landed on the Square 300 metres away.

The emergency services were quickly on scene and as fire fighters from Barnstaple and Braunton tackled the raging inferno, police cordoned off the area and evacuated around 30 residents from their homes. The fire service said three gas cylinders had been involved.

Simon Bell, who lives almost directly opposite with his wife and 17-year-old son, said they were woken by the huge explosion and debris falling onto their roof.

“We went out onto the street and the house was fully ablaze – it was absolute carnage with flames everywhere, higher than the buildings around them,” he said.

“There were people who had been on their way to work trying to drag the survivors from the ruins. They were both badly burned and I think they had been in the rubble – they must have been blown right out of the house.

“They carried one man a safe distance away, he was in a lot of pain and was screaming, but they had to move him.”

Mr Bell, who teaches at Fremington Primary School, said the family had been woken instantly by the explosion:

“A big chunk of the roof had landed right on top of my son’s bedroom. Another big chunk dropped in our back garden. He was very lucky – we’re all very lucky actually.”

Along with other residents the family were evacuated to nearby Barum Court sheltered housing complex, where they were looked after and some allowed to return to their homes at around 6am.

North Devon Sector Inspector Tom Holmes said they had received the call at 4.20am.

“Officers were already enroute because they had heard the explosion from the police station,” he said.

“The two casualties were located quickly and taken by ambulance to North Devon District Hospital and have now been airlifted to Swansea burns unit.

“I have dealt with explosions before, including gas explosions, but this is certainly a severe one. There were several properties affected at the rear of Litchdon Street whose windows have been blown out.

“North Devon Council building controllers are now on site to assess the damage.”

Inspector Holmes said it was hoped the remaining evacuees could return to their homes later today.

In the meantime drivers have been asked to avoid the Trinity and Litchdon Street area for the time being.

Read more in the North Devon Gazette this Wednesday and keep checking our website for further updates.