Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 11:40 UK

Firemen uninjured in blast mix-up

The damage at the property in Hitchin (Pic: East of England Ambulance Service)
No one was injured in the blast (Pic: East of England Ambulance Service)

Firefighters escaped injury when an explosion tore through two houses - because they had been called to check the wrong address.

Three firemen were searching a house in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, when the blast blew off the front of two neighbouring homes on Thursday afternoon.

Nobody was injured but about 30 homes in Heathfield Road were evacuated.

A resident had reported smoke coming from an upstairs window - but had given the wrong house number.

'Almighty boom'

Fire crews arrived within minutes and were let into the vacant property at 181 by Peripam Achal, the mother of the owner.

Just two minutes later number 177 exploded, pulling most of number 179 down with it. Both properties were empty as the residents were at work.

Ms Achal, 59, a school teacher from Hitchin, likened the blast to being in a war zone.

She said: "There was an almighty boom. I was standing outside number 181 when the explosion almost knocked me off my feet.

"Bricks and glass and bits of debris flew through the air and 177 just crumbled, pulling 179 with it. They both burst into flames.

"It was absolutely terrifying - like being at war. I just stood there in shock but the firemen didn't hesitate. They ran to the building and started to douse the flames and search for people."

It is staggering that no-one was hurt
Fireman Dave Harold

It took five fire engines, 26 officers and one support unit about three hours to extinguish the blaze.

Fireman Dave Harold, district manager for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "We're just incredibly thankful our officers were in the wrong house.

"It is staggering that no-one was hurt. Debris flew everywhere.

"You don't think about it too much when you're at the scene but all of the officers who first attended will be reflecting on their escape in days to come."

Teacher Gary Middleton, 50, heard and felt the explosion from his nearby house.

He said: "My whole house shook. There was a massive bang. It looks like carnage down there. The whole of the front of the house has been blown off."

A joint investigation into the blast has been launched by the fire service, British Gas and the National Grid.

Houses damaged in 'gas explosion'
26 Jun 08 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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