HUNDREDS of people were caught up in the after-effects of a fire which devastated a former bakery in Pontymister yesterday. CHRIS WOOD and RUTH MANSFIELD report.

CLOUDS of choking, toxic smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air over Pontymister yesterday as firefighters battled to put out a blaze in a former bakery building.

The fire in the Old Bake House off Mill Street, which contained a number of refrigeration units being stored there, broke out just before 8am and raged until midday, with firefighters using water to damp down the roof which contained asbestos.

The fire service said the asbestos had not posed a risk to the public, but local people were told to stay inside their homes until after the fire was put out because of fears they would have breathed in the choking smoke.

Around 20 mask-wearing police officers cordoned off Isaf Road and Mill Street, warning people over a tannoy to keep doors and windows closed.

The blaze was just metres away from properties on Mill Street and Isaf Road and behind the Welfare Ground, used by Risca United football club.

Two houses closest to the blaze were evacuated and residents in more than 36 others were kept indoors.

As flames reached around 80 feet, youngsters were also kept inside Ty Isaf Primary, Mill Street, which is across the road from the fire scene.

Jennifer Oliver and daughter and next-door neighbour Debbie Randall, 43, were evacuated.

A neighbour alerted them to the blaze at 8.10am and they left in their dressing gowns and slippers, to take shelter with a friend. Firefighters had to use their garden to access the scene.

Mrs Oliver said: “Smoke was billowing out from under the roof of the warehouse, it was horrendous”, while her daughter said: “It's been quite traumatic”.

Around 48 firefighters from nine stations battled the blaze using seven pumps, a hydraulic platform and three water bowsers.

Damping down then continued into the afternoon, with Mill Street and Isaf Road reopened to pedestrians at around 3pm.

A South Wales Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said residents were told to stay indoors as a precaution.

She said: "There was asbestos in the roof. This was a low amount and was suppressed and contained to the area using water spray. As such, it would have no negative health implications to the residents.”

The Old Bake House was roughly 100 feet long and is the former Powell’s Bakery, which closed around 20 years ago. It is currently used to refurbish white goods and is understood to be owned by a Gloucestershire man.

Families watched as 'intense' fire raged

DURING a series of mini explosions and as fire and black and grey smoke reached high into the air, people watched from the other side of the Welfare Ground, on Springfield Road.

The orange of the flames was reflected in windows of properties close to the fire and residents were seen watching it from their bedroom windows.

Marie Colbourne of Isaf Road was in the bath at 7.50am when she noticed it being really smoky outside. She said: "It was very intense and you could feel the heat from the fire. Then at about 10am, it just erupted and thick smoke started pouring from under the roof of the warehouse."

Nicola Dugdale, also of Isaf Road said: "It was a bit worrying when we first saw it and we've all missed work and school. But, the fire service was great."

Cllr Rhiannon Passmore of Risca East said: "It has been quickly brought under control and it was a major operation with a lot of smoke."

Fellow Risca Cllr East Stan Jenkins said: "I was contacted by the fire service who gave me information to tell people who were concerned, which was a very good thing to do."

Blaze 'scary' for parents

Ty Isaf Primary School teacher Joanne Griffiths said police officers asked them to keep youngsters indoors yesterday morning.

At lunchtime, staff were told the children should leave the school, but from the furthest exit from the fire, on Coronation Street.

Ms Griffiths said: "We were told the wind wasn't blowing the smoke in our direction, but nobody should leave from the front exit."

Amanda Grey from Clyde Street, was told not to take seven-year-old son Jianpiero into Ty Isaf Primary, on Wednesday morning.

She said: "All the children from the breakfast club were already there and kept indoors. It’s quite scary. The flames were yellow and I could hear all the chemicals in the fridges popping."

Emma Harrington of Springfield Road, collected son Callum, five, at around 10.30am. She said: "We wanted to get him safely away."