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EDITIONS
Friday, 22 November, 2002, 20:30 GMT
Locals entertained by army's big test
Police road block
Police had to keep the growing crowd away from the site
For the crews manning the Green Goddesses, it was the first major incident of the firefighters' strike.

For the people of the Great Bridge area of West Bromwich, it was a scene of fascination and, in some cases, memories gone up in smoke.

That smoke, from the fire at a disused plastics factory, could be seen 12 miles away in the centre of Birmingham.

Closer in, where the traffic gridlocked, the Great Bridge locals took to the streets and ensured the police kept working hard to keep them at a safe distance.

Chemical threat

Some of the onlookers had worked at the factory before it closed two years ago and one explained how it was lucky the building wasn't in use.

Samuel Daffon told BBC News Online: "The place used to be full of chemicals.

The nearby BP garage
The nearby garage was the scene of some panic
"A few minutes ago there was a mini explosion in there."

Mr Daffon was one of many residents moved from his home by police who, he claimed, had warned of the possibility of toxic fumes escaping.

If there were any, they kept heading over more industrial units and off towards Wolverhampton.

Meanwhile, the Green and Red Goddesses, and more particularly the jets of water from their hoses, seemed pitifully small against the now giant blaze confronting them.

'Garden hose'

Another local, Paul Timmins, noticed water cascading from the back of one of the much-maligned antique vehicles.

He said: "How can they put out a fire like that. Those are like garden hoses."

Army firefighters tackle the factory blaze
One passer by offered to help the army
Worse was to befall one Goddess as oil leaking from the engine began to smoke dangerously, bringing to an end its involvement in the battle against the biggest fire of the strike so far.

A greater worry was expressed by a woman who worked at the nearby petrol station.

Her cries of: "Get off the forecourt! We've got to clear the forecourt", fell mainly on deaf ears.

She wasn't helped by the presence of the army press officer being interviewed by television crews on that precious forecourt.

'Heartbreaking'

Even stranger was the sight of a dozen or more police and army personnel keeping warm in the station shop.

She gave up when a group of youths congregated around the cameras.

One man did leave, however, telling everybody: "I'm going to put it out myself."

He must have done a good job because by nightfall the fire was well under control.

Not everybody enjoyed the spectacle, with one former worker at the factory describing it as "heartbreaking".

It was also the first big test faced by the Green Goddess crews and they passed it, with or without local help.


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