FIREFIGHTERS who risked their lives battling a huge blaze were hailed as heroes yesterday by the owners of businesses they saved.
More than 60 Oxfordshire firefighters braved 20m high flames and up to 20 explosions tackling a fire at Lys Mill Industrial Estate near Watlington on Sunday.
The crews, from Thame, Watlington, Didcot, Kidlington, Eynsham, Woodstock, Henley-on-Thames, and some from Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, finally left the scene after 37 hours on Tuesday.
Among them were 40 volunteer firefighters, who after a Sunday night battling the blaze went back to work on Monday morning.
All but one of around eight businesses based at the site were back up and running yesterday after a two-day power cut.
Half of one building was burned by the fire, but seven neighbouring buildings on the estate were saved.
Marble and granite trader Rectory Stone, based in the partly-destroyed building, was one of the businesses saved.
Owner Vincent Schofield said: “The firemen are heroes.
“They really saved the businesses from total decimation by their hard work.
“All of the small businesses here are refusing to be cowed and are bravely picking up the pieces today.
“Everyone is a bit shocked and is pulling together in a community spirit to help those who have been completely wiped out.
“There will be more than one phoenix from these ashes.”
Gas cylinders in the building – acetylene, propane and oxygen – set off up to 20 explosions during the blaze.
Firefighters set up water jets to fight the flames, but had to retreat and tape off a 200m exclusion zone when the cylinders were discovered.
Of the three businesses based in the damaged building, Rectory Stone was undamaged, Crown Pavilions outdoor building company was partly damaged, and one car mechanics firm was reported to have been badly damaged.
A spokesman for site owner Copas Farms said new workshop premises for the business had been arranged but could not say where.
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Services Incident Commander at the scene, Kidlington-based Mat Carlile, said: “We did risk our lives in a highly calculated manner to save property, and with the gas cylinders there it was a highly dangerous situation.
“The retained firefighters have their own jobs so as soon as they finished – and some of them were there the whole night – they went back to work.”
The owner of neighbouring business FW 4x4 car mechanics, Ian Prior, said: “They definitely saved my business.”
Richard Copas, from Copas Farms, said: “They stopped the whole building from burning down and saved a number of businesses and jobs.
“There dedication to their work and commitment to their task saved a big chunk of the building and a number of jobs.”
The cause of the blaze is still being investigated.
Copas Farms own 3,000 acres of land across 14 farms in and around the Thames Valley and Chilterns.
It bought Lys Mill in 2006.
As well as renting out storage and workshops its land is used for arable farming and fruit-picking.