South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue (SYFR) crews were tackling blazes across the borough during Tuesday’s record-breaking 40C temperatures, with firefighters sent to Goldthorpe and Monk Bretton before the largest fire of the day struck on Woodland Drive, just off Broadway.
Residents spoke of the desperation they felt as flames tore through gardens before spreading to six homes - four of which have been completely burnt to the ground, seriously damaging the other two - in ultra-fast time due to the heat and breeze as temperatures peaked at about 3pm.
They tried in vain to allay the flames with hose pipes while fire crews arrived but the ferocity of the fire overwhelmed their efforts.
Neighbour Carl Fox, 43, told the Chronicle he felt ‘helpless’ as he watched flames head towards his family home.
He added: “It all went up - you can see the smoke from the CCTV we have got.
“It took about 15 minutes before all six houses were on fire.
“It’s the wind that’s taken it that way - the fence panels have come up, which has then ignited the grass and then the wind helped it travel to the houses.
“I was at work - I came home from Wakefield to find my neighbours with hose pipes.
“There’s a fire station two minutes away but it took them 40 minutes to arrive because they were dealing with other fires.
“We were completely helpless - I reckon if it had gone on for five more minutes we would have lost our house as well.”
A ‘major incident’ was declared by SYFR due to the demand across the county which saw crews from Barnsley’s stations diverted elsewhere due to ‘unprecedented’ demand.
It meant fires were prioritised in relation to risk to life and risk to property, with residents being asked to only call 999 if their life was at risk.
The service was completely overstretched, receiving more than 2,100 calls from across the county and being sent to 228 incidents.
The cause of the fire has been deemed accidental, with the blaze starting in a garden shed.
A fundraiser was set up by Nicola Barry, owner of nearby tearoom Twisted Teapot, to support those who were most affected - with more than £23,000 being raised.
Nicola said she has been overwhelmed with the generosity of Barnsley residents - with businesses such as Morrisons and Asda also offering their help.
She told the Chronicle: “We were in the garden that evening and had to bring the children in because of the smoke - we aren’t that close to the fire’s location but it was strong enough that we needed to go inside.
“We realised what was happening from a neighbour so put the offer of help out in case they needed to be away from the smoke and heat.
“My husband drove down to leave in case people needed a place to go but most had already been taken to Horizon Community College on Dodworth Road.
“We thought the best option would be to raise as much money as we could.
“I put the target at £1,000 because I didn’t want to start with an unrealistic amount.
“What it’s at now is truly amazing - there’s a real sense of community spirit and every time I check it’s gone up again.
“After it got to £10,000 I thought it would slow down but it’s more than doubled that.
“Firefighters were the unsung heroes that day and it needs to be yelled from the rooftops how supportive we are of them in those situations.”
Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton and Mayor Sarah Tattersall visited Woodland Drive yesterday and spoke to residents on the street.
Steve said: “Our thoughts are very much with the families whose lives have been affected by this devastating fire.
“We want to reassure these residents that the council and partner organisations will do everything we can help them at this most difficult time.
“The response from the people of Barnsley has been heartening and simply amazing - the amount of money raised is wonderful and the community has really come together to help these people in their hour of need.
“I would like to thank the people of Barnsley for the generosity and support they have shown the residents of Woodland Drive.”
* To donate to the fundraiser, visit justgiving.com and search for ‘Woodland Drive Fire’.