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The Ice-Factory at Bonhay Road burns down

From the Express and Echo - 6 November 1936

Page updated 12th January 2014

Back to historic events in Exeter

Also see Cyril Brown's memory of the fire

Thousands of Pounds of Damage

FIREMEN RISK AMMONIA ESCAPING

Damage estimated to run into several thousands of pounds was caused when the top and rear portions of the ice-factory of the South Devon Ice and Cold Storage Co. Ltd., in Bonhay Road, Exeter, were completely gutted by fire which broke out in the early hours of this morning.

The whole of the top floor of the building became a raging inferno when the greater part of 250 gallons of fuel oil went up in flames, the blazing oil falling on to the water of the leat which runs behind the factory, and intensifying the danger to adjoining property.

No personal injuries were sustained but two of the cats kept in the factory were suffocated.

This morning all that could be seen of the roof were blackened and charred beams, with piles of debris covering the lower floors. Water in places was a foot deep.

The alarm was raised when flames were seen issuing from the rear of the premises. The manager, Mr. H. L. Wood, who lives in a house adjoining the factory, was informed and he immediately summoned the Fire Brigade.

THREE FIRE ENGINES

On their arrival flames were shooting to a tremendous height from the rear of the building, and before the three engines, including the turntable, could be brought into operation the top floor of the building had been set ablaze.

Water was obtained from the leat and six jets were directed on the fire. The turntable was concentrated on the roof. Fortunately there was hardly any wind to fan the flames, but it was over an hour before the brigade got the fire under control. The firemen worked under very difficult conditions as they had not only to contend with the dense volumes of smoke but there was always the danger of ammonia escaping from the storage rooms.

Several of the drums of fuel oil were saved but those which were well alight could only bee extinguished when they had practically burnt themselves out, whilst the oil which had spread over the leat was eventually smothered by falling debris.

"MATTER OF SECONDS"

Second Officer Townsend told our representative this morning that the flames from the rear portion of the building quickly set the top floor alight and in a matter of seconds it was a mass of flames.

The fire was extinguished before the second and ground floors were set ablaze, although considerable damage was done by the large amount of water which dripped through the floors.

Interviewed, the manager said that at 12.30 a.m. when he had his final look round everything was in order. At about 4.15 this morning he was aroused by two men, who informed him that the factory was on fire. He summoned the brigade and rushed into the building and turned off most of the machinery, but the flames prevented him reaching the turbine."

"It was like a blazing inferno," he added, "and the heat was tremendous." the ice boxes escaped with very little damage.

FIREWORK THEORY

The roof of the managers residence Powhay House, was slightly damaged by the debris which fell from the roof of the factory.

Fireman were still on duty at midday.

The origin is unknown although it is thought that electric light or even a firework might have started the fire.

The St. John Ambulance was in attendance under Transport Sergt. Cashing and Pte. Barber.

The Ice-Factory in Bonhay Road started out as a fulling mill called Bonhay Mills, in the early 15th-Century. It was renamed the Powhay Mill in 1727. In the 19th-Century it was a corn mill before becoming an Ice-Factory in 1905.

Ice FactoryThe Ice Factory started life as Powhays Mill.Bonhay Road is on the right.Ice FactoryNot much can be done with this level of damage.

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