A SUSPECTED arson attack led to a mass evacuation and sparked chaos on a busy St Helens railway line.
Hundreds of residents were evacuated from their homes amid fears that a fire on a railway embankment, near to a dilapidated industrial unit, could have sparked a devastating explosion.
Six fire crews were called to the blaze off Carole Close, Sutton Leach - near to the rail line which runs between Lea Green and St Helens Junction - shortly before 6pm last Wednesday (October 19).
But, while tackling the fire, they quickly realised that five large gas cylinders, one of which had ruptured, had become overheated - sparking concerns of a major explosion.
All homes within a 250-metre radius of the scene were evacuated at about 7pm. Firefighters reported that around 200 addresses in the Carole Close, Leach Lane and Monastery Road area were affected.
Residents were initially escorted to the nearby Sidac Social Club before being put up in hotels and relative’s homes across town as firefighters carefully monitored the temperature of the cylinders - two of which contained acetylene, a highly flammable chemical.
The operation to monitor and cool the cylinders continued well into the following afternoon, before an expert from the British Oxygen Company eventually determined that the danger had passed.
A cordon surrounding the exclusion zone was reduced to a 150-metre radius just before midnight on Wednesday before it was eventually removed at about 2pm on Thursday (October 20).
The 20-hour incident also caused chaos on the busy Liverpool-Manchester rail line.
A spokesman for Network Rail confirmed that, in total, 114 trains were affected, causing a staggering 1,369 minutes of delays.
Forty-five of the trains had to be cancelled and 26 were part-cancelled - meaning they had to be re-routed in some way.
Shaun Woodward MP, who visited the site last Thursday morning, paid tribute to the “speedy” work of the emergency services.
He said: “The emergency services did an amazing job to protect local residents. Their speedy action and their bravery ensured local people were spared what could have been a tragic set of events.
“We should now wait for the police to carry out a proper analysis of the scene to discover what brought about this very serious risk to local families.”
n Witnesses or anyone who has any information or may have seen any unusual activity is asked to contact police on 0151 777 605.