A NEW emergency support service was called into action on its first night after a blaze near Bromyard saw 12 homes evacuated.

British Red Cross’s fire and emergency support service (FESS) set up a rest centre at Bromyard Leisure Centre to provide shelter for 21 people who had to leave their homes after the fire near a bungalow at The Crest, Edwyn Ralph, near Bromyard, at about 12.30am on Saturday (originally reported on Saturday here).

FESS volunteers Lisa Gray and Paul Janke responded to the call at about 2.30am, while six fire engines, teams specialising in hazardous materials and the incident support unit attended the blaze which involved a large quantity of mixed waste, vehicles and gas cylinders.

Jeremy Voaden, Red Cross senior services manager for emergency response and recovery, said: “I’m delighted the new FESS service has proved its worth so quickly.

“The fact it was called out on its first night of operation proves there’s clearly a need for the service in the county and also showed our new partnership with the fire service is running smoothly.”

Maureen Bloomer and her husband Steve were among the evacuees and were taken to the rest centre, which was set up by Herefordshire Council, at about 3.30am.

Mrs Bloomer said: “The Red Cross were brilliant – they gave us drinks all night and blankets and socks.

“At half-past six they came back with bacon sandwiches for all of us.

“We are going to have a collection for them.”

She described scenes of thick black smoke, large flames and loud bangs as the gas cylinders exploded.

The evacuees were given the all-clear to return to their homes at about 8.40am.

Group commander Mick Cadman, of Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The gas cylinders at the property were a concern and indeed, at least three exploded during firefighting operations.

“Thankfully, no one was injured, but the evacuation of nearby properties was a necessary precaution.”

FESS, which covers Herefordshire, works with the fire service to support people affected by a fire, flood or other emergency, providing practical help, advice and comfort and a place of refuge in their specially adapted vehicle.

The road was closed during the incident and the bungalow and outbuildings suffered extensive damage.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.