No fire without smoke, no spark left unhosed


By Reginald E Porter, Chief Horticultural Correspondent

Pensioner under gardener Doug Trench is at the centre of another inflammatory controversy on the Town allotments following a bonfire that got out of control resulting in the destruction of a shed of timber and a hedge of blackthorn. The Town Fire Brigade were called to the scene last Tuesday evening as flames 30 foot high engulfed the end of Mr Trench’s allotment.

A spokesperson from the Fire Brigade stated that a spark from Mr Trench’s bonfire had landed in the door of his woodshed and had developed into a small blaze by the time it was noticed. Mr Trench reacted quickly by deploying the contents of two watering cans that were in his green house and thought that he had put the fire out. He then made the mistake of opening the shed door to check, which had resulted in a sudden in rush of air and the re-igniting of the fire. Mr Trench made frantic attempts to quell the blaze with refilled watering cans but the fire then took hold with devastating effect. Despite a large crowd gathering to watch the drama no one was hurt and the damage was confined to the boundary hedges between adjacent allotments.

Following anonymous messages to The Examiner, a spokesperson from the Town Allotment Association confirmed that Mr Trench had been warned about his bonfires earlier in the summer following complaints about smoke but stated that no further action would be taken on this occasion as he had followed the guidance on bonfires in the allotment rule book. They had advised him however not to continue to use his oil drum method which created a powerful chimney effect and a very fierce fire.

By coincidence the monthly Allotment Association meeting took place two days after the conflagration and calls were made to ban Mr Trench from having further bonfires and indeed some argued for all bonfires to be banned. A Fire Brigade representative offered to put on half day courses on the safe management of fires but consensus could not be reached on whether this would improve safety or simply encourage more dangerous fires. The Allotment rule book currently discourages but does not ban fires. A working group was set up to consider the issues in more detail and will report to a meeting later in the year.

Mr Ron Arthur Trowel who works the adjacent allotment to Mr Trench told The Examiner that he thought the flare up was all out of proportion, ‘No one was hurt, people enjoyed a great spectacle and the blaze had cleared away a lot of old rubbish at the bottom of the allotments. I have been asking for that blackthorn to be grubbed out for years, it took the evening sun off my patch – and now it’s gone, fantastic!’

Mr Trench contacted The Examiner in order to put his side of the story. He said that he had done nothing wrong and had simply followed guidance about thoroughly drying weeds out before burning them in order to reduce smoke to a minimum. He did accept though that placing tinder dry weeds on a grid on top of an oil drum that housed a roaring fire was likely to result in fierce flames and flying sparks. ‘I was just unlucky that the wind changed and caught me out.’ He agreed that it was a traumatic experience, pointing out that his whole stock of wood had now gone and that he would have to bring fuel in from outside for future fires. He said that calls to stop having bonfires in the future were ridiculous, adding that having ‘a right good blaze’ was one of the best bits of having an allotment. He had contacted the National Fires Association for advice and support who told him that man (sic) had an unalienable right to carry matches and that the Allotment Association constitution will undoubtedly reflect this.

Examiner readers will remember that Mr Trench was at the centre of a row earlier in the year about the use of vigilante groups to combat the threat posed by rats to broad bean seedlings. As a result Hedge End Allotmenteers voted to secede from the Association and are currently negotiating the terms of HEXIT. Nigel Borage, the group’s leader, is currently overseas in the Americas providing support to other separatist groups and has recently shared a platform with Mr F’Art. The group’s deputy leader, Doris Jackson, told the Examiner that this controversy ‘typified everything that is wrong with the Association’ and that ‘there must be fires.’ She refused to comment on reports that Russian military flamethrowers had been bought for use by the Enders.