Fire engulfs Mill Lane factory

Anna Croal 13 November 2008

A fire at a warehouse on Mill Road yesterday morning has resulted in the closure of one of the busiest traffic routes in Cambridge.

The fire broke out around 1am yesterday morning at a former John Lewis warehouse, which may now have to be demolished.

The warehouse, which is currently owned by the Muslim Academic Trust, in partnership with the Cambridge Muslim Welfare Society, had already been scheduled for demolition, to make way for a new mosque on Mill Road.

50 fire-fighters were called to the scene of the fire at 1.15am; by 2.15am they believed to have got the blaze under control. But within half an hour, the wind had changed, causing renewed fears that the fire might spread.

CUSU Welfare Officer Andrea Walko, who lives in the building adjacent to the warehouse, told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that the residents of her house were woken by the flashing lights in the road outside at around 2.15 am.

She spoke to one of the fire-fighters tackling the blaze and was told that “It was all under control.” After half an hour though, they were informed that the wind had shifted direction and because of the danger they had to be evacuated.

They were not given any official evacuation aid and instead journeyed into town, looking for accommodation with friends. Walko herself spent the remainder of the night on a sofa in King’s College.

Residents told Cambridge Evening News (CEN) of their distress at the ways events unfolded, but were reassured by the actions of the fire-fighters. One local resident, who wished to remain anonymous, described their experience of the blaze:

“We managed to sleep through the initial part of it. Then I saw flashes behind the curtains. I looked out and saw orange smoke coming out of the building…It seemed to take quite a long time to get it under control.

“The only thing that worried me at one point was that it might spread to the garage next door.”

In praise of the fire-fighters, though, this resident added that:

“It seemed to me the fire-fighters were very professional and it was extremely organised.”

Speaking to TCS, Walko agreed that the efforts of the fire services warranted such praise:

“I was reassured by the competence and politeness of the fire fighters. I never felt in any great danger.”

Police are currently treating the site of the fire as a crime scene. Fire-fighters will carry out a full assessment of the site, including a search and launch investigation, once they are able to enter the building.

As a result of the incident, Mill Road has been closed in both directions between Perne Road and Coleridge Road.

Motorists have been advised to expect lengthy delays or to find alternative routes, though cyclists and pedestrians can still use the route.

Anna Croal