Worker Peter Doyle speaks of relief at being cleared of arson after accidentally starting huge tyre fire at T Peters Roofing in Gravesend
The man who accidentally started one of the largest fires Kent has ever seen said it got out of control because of some gone-off milk.
Peter Doyle was arrested on suspicion of arson after the huge tyre fire in Gravesend on August 31, which could be seen 40 miles away.
The 22-year-old has spoken exclusively about the inferno he created on a warm Saturday morning, after being told no charges would be brought.
Terry Peters and Peter Doyle at the destroyed tyre yard
Mr Doyle was doing work for T. Peters Roofing, based in Canal Road, Gravesend, and lit a small bonfire in an oil drum.
The father-of-one, from Perry Street, Gravesend, said: “I was burning some wood for Terry, the owner, but it wasn’t going up properly so I threw in a capful of white spirit and it was all going fine.
Huge fire in Canal Road, Gravesend. Picture: Phil Tobin
“While it was burning I went to get a cup of tea but the milk had gone off.
“I walked up the road to the shop and bought a pint and, when I came out, there was smoke everywhere.
Peter Doyle accidentally started Gravesend's tyre fire
“I had this sinking feeling as soon as I saw it, that it was coming from the fire I started, but I didn’t think it was my fault at first.
“I thought somebody else must have been a bit of a wally and messed with it.
“I would never have thought that such a little fire could cause so much damage.”
“But when I ran back there was nobody there. The fire had already spread across a big pile of rubbish, burnt down the fence separating us from the tyre company next door and started to catch the tyres."
The handyman, who is unemployed, made one desperate attempt to salvage something from the fire by grabbing business owner Terry Peters’ van keys from the blazing site.
He burnt his arm in the process but one of the tyre yard workmen managed to drive it out for him, saving thousands of pounds worth of roofing equipment, as well at the van itself.
Mr Doyle continued: “After that, there was nothing I could do, the firemen wouldn’t let anyone through.
“I just stood at the entrance, watching it with a massive crowd of other people and knowing it was all my fault.
Police helicopter above Gravesend's tyre fire
“I told the firemen from the start that it was my fault, but that it was an accident. It was a massive shock when police arrested me on suspicion of arson.
“My girlfriend was crying her eyes out, it was horrible.
“That’s the last time I’ll be starting even a bonfire for a long time. I get scared lighting a cigarette now.
“I’m relieved the charges have been dropped. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders.
“My girlfriend called me an idiot for leaving the fire, as did everyone else, but she’s happy it’s all been dropped and we can move on. I’ve definitely learned my lesson, I’ll never leave a fire ever again.
“I know it was an accident, there’s no way he would have ever started a fire maliciously, and the police agreed with me” - Terry Peters
“I can’t hope to pay Terry back completely but I’m doing everything I can to help him.”
Around 85 firefighters tackled the blaze.
Twelve vehicles from Kent were sent to the industrial estate and crews from Erith, Bexley and Sidcup also joined the incident.
The huge plume of thick, black smoke could be seen up to 40 miles away, from people on the M11 to those on the M20 near Ashford.
The fire broke out at 11.30am and it was 9.50pm before it was doused.
Roofing business owner Terry Peters, 47, was on a family holiday in Lanzarote at the time of the fire but stood by Peter Doyle from the start, calling him a “good, hardworking lad”.
Black smoke filled the air when the tyres caught light in Canal Road, Gravesend
On hearing the news the charge against Mr Doyle had been dropped, he said: “I’m just glad it’s over for him.
“I know it was an accident, there’s no way he would have ever started a fire maliciously, and the police agreed with me.”
The father-of-four is still picking up the pieces of his burnt-out business.
The wreckage has been cleared to some extent but Mr Peters is still in the process of replacing everything he lost.
The destroyed tyre yard after the fire
“It is going to take me a long time,” he said.“I lost thousands of pounds worth of equipment and power tools.
“It’s not something I can just replace overnight so at the moment I’m just buying things as I need them.
“Fortunately, I had enough in the van to continue with the business.”
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