A FORMER wartime fortress which is now a self-proclaimedindependent state has been left devastated after a fierce blaze torethrough the structure.
The so-called Principality of Sealand,seven miles off the coast of Felixstowe and Harwich, was evacuated atlunchtime yesterdayafter a generator caught fire.
ThamesCoastguard, Harwich RNLI lifeboat, Felixstowe Coastguard rescue teams,firefighting tug Brightwell, the RAF rescue helicopter from Wattishamand 15 Suffolk based firefighters from the National Maritime IncidentResponse Group (MIRG) were all called into action to tackle the blaze.
Oneman, believed to be a security guard, was airlifted from the scene andtaken to Ipswich Hospital with smoke inhalation but no one else was onthe Second World War gun emplacement.
Emergency services werefirst alerted to the drama just after midday when eyewitnesses noticedhuge clouds of black smoke billowing out of the concrete structure,which is owned by self-styled King Roy Bates.
Brian Ironman, who was fishing just off Sealand along with his dog Rosie, said he noticed something was wrong around 11.30am.
xe2x80x9cI’dbeen fishing nearby since 7am for smoothhound and tope and just beforelunchtime I noticed there was a lot of smoke coming from the back endof the tower,xe2x80x9d he said.
xe2x80x9cI immediately thought something waswrong and called the coastguard straight away. They were here fairlyquickly and there were about five or six extinguishers trying to putthe fire out.
xe2x80x9cThe helicopter also arrived and I think it picked up one person who was on the platform.xe2x80x9d
AndrewBeal, a council worker from Trimley who watched events unfold from hisbeach hut at Brackenbury, said: xe2x80x9cThere was thick black smoke billowingout of the gun emplacement. Air sea rescue was heading out at highspeed and hovered over the platform and appeared to be taking someoneoff.
xe2x80x9cThere were several other vessels heading out, including alifeboat, and there was a boat out there hosing it down. The smoke washundreds of feet high in the air.xe2x80x9d
Rod Markham, who runs anglingtrips out of Felixstowe Ferry in his boat Tracy Jane, was able to seethe excitement from his house.
xe2x80x9cAt first I just thought theywere stoking up the generators because there is always a bit of smoke -I never realised it was on fire,xe2x80x9d he said.
xe2x80x9cBut when I lookedback after I’d messed about a bit in the garden I saw there was a bigdeluge of black and that’s when I saw the lifeboat and tug were there.xe2x80x9d
Firefightingtug Brightwell from the port of Felixstowe was despatched to the sceneand doused the flames with vast amounts of water.
A team of 15off-shore firefighters from the National Maritime Incident ResponseGroup (MIRG) were also assembled but after a reconnaissance of the areafrom the air it was decided it was too dangerous to land.
KeithChurchman, of Harwich Royal National Lifeboat Institution, said: xe2x80x9cThedamage is very extensive. The fire started in a generator and spreadquickly to the accommodation.
xe2x80x9cThere have been a number ofexplosions on board as the fire has engulfed gas bottles and batteries.Only one person was on Sealand at the time, whom we understand to be awatchman whose job was to maintain the generators and equipment.
xe2x80x9cA team of firefighters was flown to the scene but because of the damage to the structure they decided not to go on board.
xe2x80x9cAfirefighting tug sprayed the whole structure with water in the hopethis would eventually cool the fire and starve it of oxygen.xe2x80x9d
A spokesperson for Suffolk Fire Service confirmed the fire was left to burn itself out and was under control by 3.10pm.