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Paint company staff feared their building would be consumed by raging fire

A business owner has told how staff grabbed everything of value before fleeing the building they thought would be destroyed in the HWP fire.

Karolina DeCosta feared the worst as she saw the “smoke turn to flames” in the HWP showroom just metres from the front door of her company.

Thinking the flames would spread to Rowe Spurling Paint Company, Mrs DeCosta made the decision to “gather everything we could and leave”.

Staff grabbed what they could carry, including laptops, cash, chequebooks and important paperwork before rolling down the store’s metal shutters and leaving the scene.

Mrs DeCosta was with two staff and one customer in the store when they heard the HWP fire alarm sounding at about 2pm.

They initially watched the drama unfold from the window, before realising the seriousness of the blaze, which started in the body and paint store and spread to the showroom.

Mrs DeCosta said: “We heard the fire alarm and saw all the HWP workers leaving the building, no one was panicking, no one was running. It was very organised.

“At first there was just a little bit of smoke, but it spread quickly. In just minutes we saw the smoke turn to flames and we were concerned.

“We realised it could come across the street and it wouldn’t take long. By 2.45pm we had gathered up what we could and left.”

Mrs DeCosta returned home and kept tabs on news websites to see what was happening with the blaze. Then at about 8pm, police officers allowed her through the cordoned off area to check up on the premises.

She said: “We felt a sense of relief, but we really do feel dreadful for HWP and the workers.

“We were very, very fortunate with the way the wind was blowing, but it’s absolutely devastating what has happened.

“The fire department did an amazing job of containing the fire. They had all the manpower they could muster.”

Rowe Spurling Paint Company opened as usual yesterday morning with staff fielding scores of phone calls from concerned customers. People called to check if staff were okay, if the store was damaged and if the road was open.

Members of Western Stars Sports Club were yesterday still waiting for permission to enter their property to assess the situation. The strong westerly wind was blowing directly towards the clubhouse, which is next door to HWP.

Club secretary Wayne Campbell said they had handed the keys to the fire service to inspect the property on Monday evening and the doors were left open yesterday to “air things out”.

The clubhouse is said to have a “strong smell of smoke” but Mr Campbell remains hopeful that “it’s not going to be that bad” as the ceiling and extraction fans had been left on.

Mr Campbell’s greatest concern is the club’s water supply. He said Sunday’s cricket game against Cleveland County looked “doubtful”.

“We’re going to do what we can but we probably won’t have much usable water. The smoke was going straight across the club then we had all that rain and everything was washed off the roof into the tank.

“We are a Government facility so tests will have to be carried out to make sure everything is okay,” he said.

Mr Campbell said he was informed about the HWP blaze by concerned members who spotted smoke and called to ask if the club was on fire.

He said: “I got a lot of phone calls that day, people were worried it was the club. I found out it was HWP next door and called the executive to put their minds at rest.

“But we knew the wind was coming in our direction so we thought the fire could spread. We couldn’t do nothing or think nothing, we just had to wait until we were told what was going on.

“It could have been a lot worse.”

Karolina DeCosta, owner of Rowe Spurling Paint Company, a near neighbour of HWP.

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Published August 10, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 10, 2011 at 9:07 am)

Paint company staff feared their building would be consumed by raging fire

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