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Out of control garden fire causes devastation to much-loved miniature railway

A garden fire which spread out of control has caused devastating damage to a miniature railway at a garden centre in Eccleshall.

Railway manager Stu Harris views the damage to the railway ticket booth
Railway manager Stu Harris views the damage to the railway ticket booth

The fire broke out on Friday, March 25, and spread to Fletchers Garden Centre, where Hilcote Valley Railway is based. Polytunnels belonging to the garden centre were also wrecked.

Firefighters were called to the centre with crews from Penkridge, Stafford, Eccleshall, Newcastle and Rising Brook in attendance.

Despite frantic work to save everything in the storage area, the fire managed to spread to the ticket office and station of the railway, destroying both.

The scene at Fletchers Garden Centre, Eccleshall

The full cost of the repairs is currently unknown, but it estimated that to replace just the ticket office alone, £7,000 will be needed, due to the rising price of wood.

The cause of the blaze is believed to be accidental, as a result of a controlled burn in the nearby area which spread.

Railway manager Stu Harris said: "To say we were gutted would be an understatement, I felt physically sick.

Inside the damaged ticket booth

"My first thought when it happened was the locomotives, as if they are damaged, we don’t have a railway.

"I dashed over to make sure they were safe, and luckily the fire hadn't gone that far.

"We took them out of the shed just to make sure.

The scene at Fletchers Garden Centre, Eccleshall

"In the cold air it really didn’t look that bad until I went up there the following morning.

"The only thing that kept us together were the kind words and offers of help from the people that turned up at 11am to get stuck in with the clearing up.

"Sadly we couldn't proceed as we need to wait until the insurance company have assessed the damage.

The scene at Fletchers Garden Centre, Eccleshall

"The way it is at the moment, it wouldn't be safe to run.

"It couldn't have happened at a worse time, with Mother's Day and Easter."

Hilcote Valley Railway is run by volunteers and is totally self-funded, without riders, it cannot operate.

STAFFORD COPYRIGHT MNA MEDIA TIM THURSFIELD 31/03/22.The scene at Fletchers Garden Centre, Eccleshall, after poly tunnels caught fire next to the miniature railway..Thousands of pounds worth of stock destroyed..

First opened in 1993, the line is a circular route, with a station which has a booking office and a signal box. The train takes passengers around a lake over a bridge and through a tunnel.

A GoFundMe fundraiser has also been set up and has currently raised £3,000 of its £10,000 goal, with Stu overwhelmed by the amount of people who have come forward.

Lee Chevin, of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "We urge the public to ensure they are cautious when burning materials during warmer weather.

"Fires can spread to surrounding wood, fence panels, foliage and other furniture rapidly and can quickly become difficult to contain.

"Firefighters have worked proactively in order to mitigate large scale damage to the area and have acted swiftly in restricting the spread of the blaze.

"We will continue to support the business owners and issue post-fire advice where applicable."

The fundraising page, called 'Hilcote Valley Railway Fire Damage Appeal' can be found at gofundme.com/f/hilcote-valley-railway-fire-damage

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