FAMILIES were forced to stay away from their homes for most of yesterday evening after a gas cylinder caught fire.
Firefighters evacuated 50 houses last night in Spring Vale, Swanmore, in case the cylinder, containing highly-flammable acetylene, exploded.
It was found alight in a garage at the back of a property in the estate at around 4.15pm.
Swanmore Village Hall was set up as a safe place for residents to go and have refreshments, which were provided by Hampshire County Council and Winchester City Council.
Others decided to either stay with relatives and friends nearby or go to the pub while fire crews from across the area worked to resolve the situation.
Riaan Theron, 36, his wife Danielle, 28, and their two children, Amelie, six, and Leila, five, were just some of the residents affected. Mrs Theron said she had just brought her children home from school when she was then asked to leave.
She said: ‘We came in from school and got changed when we got a knock on the door from a fireman who said “I’m really sorry, we have got to evacuate you from the house”.
‘Fortunately my mum was up the road, so we went round there for the evening.’
Ian Richardson, 46, of Spring Vale did not have to leave his home, but he made others teas and coffees anyway.
He said: ‘We always help each other out, it’s something you do as a neighbour. It was quite dramatic. I’m normally in bed early because I have to be up for work at 3am.’
A 50m cordon was put in place across part of the estate which had been cleared, and it wasn’t lifted until almost 8.30pm, when it was deemed that the cylinder was safe.
Nigel Cooper, of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, was the incident’s tactical supervisor.
Describing how firefighters dealt with the situation, he said: ‘We went through our protocols for dealing with acetylene cylinders. We wetted it down for an hour, and then carried out further checks using thermal imaging cameras to ensure it remained cool in temperature.
‘We also then ensured that the cylinder was not decomposing.
‘When we established the cylinder was cool, we stopped wetting it with water, and after 15 minutes rechecked the temperature.’
Acetylene is commonly used in the cutting and welding of metals.
Winchester City Council will now carry out an investigation into the incident. It is unknown how the fire started, while the Safer Neighbourhood Team for Swanmore is due to meet the owner of the property where the gas cylinder was found.