A GROUP of showmen have raised thousands of pounds for the Fire Fighters Charity after a huge fire was stopped from reaching their homes.

More than 80 firefighters were needed to battle a huge grass fire in a South Ockendon field – for six hours.

The fire moved dangerously close to a large site homing travelling showpeople in Buckles Lane.

Fortunately, no homes were damaged after many families were evacuated, and now the showman community on site have raised almost £4,000 for the fire service.

A cheque was presented to the fire service at the Hoggs Lane fire station on Wednesday.

John Biddall, who has lived on the site for 18 years, and is spokesman for the travelling showmen, said: “We are very lucky, in many senses. We are lucky with the excellent service, and we are lucky we have been been able to raise a whisker away from £4,000.

“It could have been a tragedy, but thankfully everything is okay.”

The community have spoken out in praise of the fire service, admitting it was a scary incident but thankfully did not develop further.  Mr Biddall added: “It was outstanding, it really was, and we cannot be thankful enough.  “I wasn’t at home at the time, I was working in Loughton, but I was worried to death when I heard about it.  “We were in the direct line of the fire.  “There were 40 families evacuated, the fire was so close that floating debris was landing on the homes.  “There were women screaming, lots of panic, it was really scary.”

In 1980, permission was granted for 50 caravan pitches for travelling showman to use during winter months.  But over the years, the site – described as “overcrowded” by a Thurrock Council report in 2014 – has more than doubled in size, with an estimated 350 families living on 120 pitches - although Mr Biddall insists it is still largely populated by showmen.  The site recently came under criticism and was branded Europe’s largest traveller site in the national press – which Mr Biddall took huge offence to, stating the showman are far from similar to travellers.

The huge fire, believed to be nearly 100m square in size, started very near to the caravan park and broke out at around 3pm on July 17.

After three hours of continuous attempts to extinguish the blaze it continued to spread to about half a kilometer square.

After the incident, Marc Diggory, station manager, said: “Crews worked extremely well in very tough conditions.

“At its worst, the incident was affecting around 1km squared of very dry hedgerow and shrub land and spreading very quickly.

“It’s only thanks to the hard work of our skilled firefighters that the fire was controlled before it spread any further, meaning we avoided any injuries or property damage. Thanks also to crews from London Fire Brigade for their assistance and to colleagues from Essex Police for their support in in keeping the public safe.”