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Fire sweeps through weekly newspaper office

Firefighters last night battled to put out a blaze which sent cyanide fumes sweeping through a historic weekly newspaper office in Sussex.

Two journalists were at work at the Horsham headquarters of the West Sussex County Times when fire broke out in an area of the editorial department shortly before 7pm.

The pair alerted the fire brigade which managed to prevent the fire spreading to the rest of the Market Square building, the newspaper’s home for the past 150 years.

An electrical fault is thought to have been the cause of the blaze which left part of the editorial area gutted.

Part of the editorial floor at the County Times following last night's blaze

Editor-in-chief Gary Shipton had been attending a presentation evening at a nearby venue when the incident occurred.

He and other members of the County Times team rushed to the scene as soon as they were alerted to the blaze.

Gary said production of the company’s newspapers would not in anyway be affected by the fire

“It’s business as normal. Our reporting and advertising teams will work from our other neighbouring offices until the damage is repaired,” he said.

Added Gary:  “I would like to thank the emergency services for their magnificent response this evening.

“I am obviously enormously relieved that no-one appears to have been injured in the fire.”

Fire Inspection Officer Tim Eady told the newspaper that the fire appeared to have started in a ceiling light fitting.

“The fire debris from the light fitting has fallen down onto the floor and onto the chair below, igniting the chair. This then spread to the computer on the desk next to it,” he said.

Although the fire was contained to the editorial area a number of rooms in the offices suffered smoke damage, including the main entrance and stairs and photographic department.

Mr Eady added:  “Most people seem to dismiss smoke damage and think it’s less serious. In this case it was toxic because of the plastic, which meant it would have been liberating cyanide and other deadly fumes which are incredibly harmful.”


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  • September 23, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Lucky it was not full up – that place is like a rabbit warren.

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  • September 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    OUCH!!! I can still taste the smoke. Cyanide?
    The desk shown in the picture is sub Janet Philip’s desk and the window faces out on to the Town Hall at Market Square, Horsham. My desk is nehind hers facing the other way and the faulty light fitting is almost above my head.
    There were three of us left in the building at that time. Myself, sub David Philip (who works in the rear of the building) and a cleaner. Dave and I had just nipped outside the front of the building for a fag break. Anyway, when we went back I thought ‘Blimey, it gets dark quick now’ as the room was a bit gloomy. I thought nothing else of it first because when on my own at night I turn all of the lights off – except the one in the ceiling above my desk – to save wasting electricity.
    I went over to my desk and noticed sooty stuff all over it and immediately thought my PC was about to burn but then I had a nice lungfull of the smoke coming from the ceiling which had a thick oily sort of flavour – the smoke, not the ceiling!!
    I then noticed molten bits of the light cascading down and blazing on the carpet. I called the other Dave and pointed out the smoke and asked him to call the brigade. I then went downstairs to tell the cleaner to bugger-off sharpish.
    I then went back upstairs and the smoke was jet black and really scarily thick and the flames were getting higher – although to be fair it was only the molten stuff from the light burning and nothing else seemed to have caught alight (apart from a swathe of carpet). I grabbed my bag (No way was I leaving my £60 Portsmouth-Horsham rail weekly season behind), jacket and legged it to the newsroom where the fire door automatically closes. Dave said the brigade was on its way and we legged it out of one of the two back fire escapes. We could never have escaped through the front because of the thick, treacly smoke.
    Blimey, it was all so fast and strangely surreal.
    One fire officer asked me if I wanted a glug of oxygen as I’d inhaled some smoke but I thought that would have been a tad hypocritical because the first thing I needed was a fag!!
    Anyway, the good news is that the main damage has been caused by the smoke and once IT and the decorators have done the business (eight new PCs, phones and a loads of paint please) the ‘Horsham Production Hub’ should be back in action in a month or two.
    Oh yes, thanks for the donations to the ‘Glad the old git DC didn’t burn’ fund. It already stands at 7p, two euros and a strange thing called a Deutschmark!!

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  • September 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    If they can all work from neighbouring offices, then keep it quiet from the directors, or else they will move you permanantly under the guise of ‘centralisation’!

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