A HUGE blaze which caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage is being investigated as arson.

Eight south Essex crews were called to the fire, which started in a camper van on the former Koi farm and quickly spread to a neighbouring car garage, on Tuesday night.

All the mechanics and staff at Tiffaynes Farm, in Burnt Mills Road, tried to put the flames out using water from the nearby lake and moat, rushing to stop even more cars being destroyed.

One fire crew arriving at the scene crashed into a building while trying to get away from the blaze, as the driver’s vision was hampered by smoke after the wind changed direction.

A Basildon firefighter, who got a blister on his face while fighting the blaze, was praised by eyewitness for carrying on.

In the end, 40 firefighters battled the blaze for more than five hours.

One eyewitness said: “It was ferocious.

“You couldn’t see the firefighters, that is how bad it was.

“It happened instantaneously. You just heard a bang and then the tree went up in flames and the driver tried to reverse.

“The fire was ferocious and the winds were 30 to 40mph and you could see he was trying to get the engine out of the way.

“You just heard a sound like turning a tap and then a wallop as the gas canisters exploded. If the fire had spread further it would have been mayhem, absolute mayhem.”

He added the intensity of the fire was so much they could not get past it to leave the yard.

About ten vehicles, a derelict building, a fence and a portable ice rink were all destroyed.

Crews had to pump water from opposite ends of Burnt Mills Road and use the water from the lake and moat.

They returned to the site, where the ashes were still smouldering, twice yesterday morning to check the fire had not reignited. Divisional officer Neil Fenwick, incident commander, said: “The fire involved a derelict vehicle workshop and developed rapidly because the building was made of wood.

“Firefighters worked swiftly to tackle the blaze from all angles and we had to get additional resources to the scene quickly, as there was a shortage of water on site and we needed more manpower for breathing apparatus.

“There was the complication of cylinders, but once we were able to satisfy ourselves they were not a danger, we were able to get on with the job of dealing with the fire itself.”

Police were contacted by the fire service shortly after 5.30pm and initial inquiries have indicated that the fire was started deliberately. A full investigation has been launched.

Anyone with information should contact police on 101.