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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
Holidaymakers escape resort fire
Fire at Center Parcs, Elveden, Suffolk
Firefighters say some of the structure collapsed
Firefighters are still tackling a massive fire which forced 3,500 holidaymakers to abandon the Center Parcs holiday resort in Suffolk.

A total of 25 fire crews from three different counties were sent to the scene in Elveden at about 1000 BST and were assisted by the Suffolk Police helicopter.

The fire was reported to be under control at about 1400 BST.

One male contractor was treated for smoke inhalation, but there have been no serious injuries.

Fire at Center Parc holiday resort, Elveden
The fire started in a catering block

The fire began in the central Plaza area, which contains restaurants, shops, and a swimming pool.

The glass-domed area has been largely destroyed.

Martin Robinson, chairman of Center Parcs UK, said the amount of damages was still being assessed.

He said: "It looks pretty severe, the whole of the plaza has definitely been lost.

"I do not know how long the village will be closed for. We have contacted all the guests arriving on Friday and told them not to come, and are in the process of contacting guests who would be arriving on Monday.

"The guests have been extremely calm, they have evacuated the place quickly, calmly, efficiently, and I can't stress enough how sorry we are to have inconvenienced them."

'Crying hysterically'

Earlier, holidaymaker Cindy Wilson, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, told of the moment when she heard the fire alarm go off.

"I was in the badminton court area with nine children and we left straight away.

"I just got the children and started leading them away.

"I could see some of the flames and could see them getting higher, thick chunks of black stuff were falling on to us.

"Several of the children were crying hysterically. They were very frightened."

'No casualties'

Police say the fire began in a catering block, and Suffolk fire brigade confirmed it spread to a restaurant and the main plaza.

At its peak, about 150 firefighters tackled the flames, using water from a lake in the complex.

When you think of everyone who's staying here and think of how scary the fire was it's quite a feat that everyone is OK

Paul West, holidaymaker

As well as 3,500 guests, about 400 staff were also told to leave the site.

Graham Smith, assistant chief fire officer for Suffolk, said: "It's a particularly difficult fire to tackle due to the early collapse of some of the structure which has created dangerous conditions for the firefighters.

"We will be here into tomorrow."

The main concern of firefighters was to stop the fire spreading into neighbouring buildings, or into the surrounding 400 acres of woodland.

Norfolk and Cambridgeshire fire brigades are assisting the operation.

Fire investigators

Another holidaymaker Paul West said: "The flames swept up incredibly high. The initial flames took over really quickly.

"When you think of everyone who's staying here and think of how scary the fire was it's quite a feat that everyone is OK, everyone was very calm."

Center Parcs is urging people who have holidays booked not to contact the company for fear of jamming the phone lines, but to wait until they are called.

It is thought the fire probably started in a kitchen block.

A team of fire investigators is beginning work at the site.

The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"The blaze is now under control"

Click here to go to BBC Suffolk
See also:

04 Apr 02 | England
Picture gallery: Center Parcs fire
04 Apr 02 | England
The concept of Center Parcs
04 Jul 00 | Business
Fire delays Center Parcs sale
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