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It's a crisis says fire-hit company

PUBLISHED: 10:59 13 July 2010 | UPDATED: 21:54 01 August 2010

A company that had its premises gutted by a major fire last night said it was in a "crisis situation".

Firefighters were today still at the Wessex Foods plant at the South Lowestoft industrial estate and have this morning asked people to avoid the area if possible while the incident is ongoing.

A company that had its premises gutted by a major fire last night said it was in a “crisis situation”.

Firefighters were today still at the Wessex Foods plant at the South Lowestoft industrial estate and have this morning asked people to avoid the area if possible while the incident is ongoing.

The cause of the fire, which started on Sunday night, is not yet known but police said it was “not thought to be suspicious”.

The 130 employees at the food production factory are now off work with full pay and a human resources team are fielding their enquiries.

But a spokesman for Wessex Foods said it is too early to say what will happen to the factory, which is one of the biggest burger producers in the country, and the jobs it provides.

Alistair MacDougall, public affairs consultant for Wessex, said: “We're in a crisis situation really.

“Obviously we have customers who have ongoing requirements - retailers, fast food companies - who require a product from us and that's a situation we're looking at as a matter of urgency.”

He said the orders would be picked up by other factories owned by the company.

“We haven't had anything like this before, it's a major difficulty for us,” he added.

“We're all horrified. The company would like to thank the Suffolk Fire Service.”

Mark Sanderson, assistant chief fire officer, said this morning: “Disruption around the site will continue today while firefighters work to secure the site.

“We are working with local businesses in order to minimise the disruption to them and will be meeting with them this afternoon to keep them up to date.

“In order to allow fire vehicles easy access to the site, I would also like to ask people to avoid the area of Hadenham Road and Tower Road while we continue to monitor the incident and make the building safe.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank local people and businesses for their considerable understanding and support during this incident.”

Speaking yesterday, Suffolk Fire and Rescue group manager Mark Labdon said that it was “the biggest fire for a number of years” in Lowestoft and by the end of the operation, most of fire fighters in the county would have been involved.

He said the fire was initially difficult to control because of the hazardous chemicals involved and crews would be at the scene for another two days.

“At the moment we're just minimising the impact and stopping the fire from spreading,” said Mr Labdon.

“It's caused quite a big drain on resources.”

He added that firefighters were now dampening down the site and using aerial platforms to douse the flames inside the building.

On Sunday night, factories, stores and nearby units had to be evacuated, while people were told to keep their windows shut as black smoke engulfed the area.

The fire was believed to have started in some chilling units and although a few members of staff were working at the factory, no one was injured.

Daniel Edwards, who relies on Wessex Foods for work through an agency, said he saw about 50 other employees watching the factory burn on Sunday night.

“They've always got work going here,” said Mr Edwards, 22, of The Avenue, Lowestoft. “If I cannot get work from anywhere else all I have to do is ring the agency and I'm up here the next day.”

While the factory fire was ongoing, crews from Bungay and Orwell attended a “large gorse fire” in Corton Road, opposite Dip Farm in Lowestoft, just after 8.35pm on Sunday.

Roads were closed and reopened at about 2am yesterday, while a spokesman for the fire service said that the fire was dealt with by 7.10am.

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