FIREFIGHTERS spent 12 hours battling billowing smoke and searing heat as a huge blaze took hold on an industrial estate.

The owners of Bobs Skips, on Basildon’s Burnt Mills Industrial Estate, have been left with a costly repair bill after a mountain of rubbish went up in flames.

Clouds of smoke could be seen across the town on Wednesday as six crews from Basildon, Wickford, Southend, Grays and Corringham spent the night tackling the fire.

People living in surrounding homes were advised by the fire service to keep their windows closed.

Vicky Walker, who has worked alongside her husband Bob to build up the skip hire business over the past two decades, said machinery and an outbuilding had been destroyed.

She said: “It is very hard to take really, the fact that 20 years of hard work has gone into build the business up, and then in the space of hours this has happened.

“It will cost thousands to put right, but the main thing is that the damage is only cosmetic and that nobody was hurt.”

“We locked up and left the yard at about 5.50pm, and got the call at about 6.30pm to say it was on fire.

“Our 360 machine was gutted and three of our lorries have had plastic on the front completely melted. 

“There weren’t flammable materials there, and we’ve been told that rubbish in a pile can combust due to the heat.

“We are still coming to terms with the whole thing before we start looking at making changes to how we operate.”

“The fire service were absolutely fantastic, and I would like to thank them ever so much for their hard work.

“We are also working with the Environment Agency to make the site safe.”

Mrs Walker admitted she is unsure when the yard, in Harvey Road, will able to reopen.

She said the blaze has attracted a lot of attention.

She added: “We’ve had youngsters on their bikes coming to take pictures of the buildings, and it is all over Facebook.

“I was amazed by it all, but when you consider how big the fire was,  perhaps it’s not surprising people want to know more.

“People have been saying how they were able to see the smoke from miles away.”

A spokesman for the fire service confirmed the blaze was extinguished shortly after 6am yesterday - 12 hours after it started.

He said: “The fire has been extinguished and crews have revisited the site yesterday to carry out further safety checks. 

“The fire has been recorded as accidental.”

An aerial ladder platform was also used to tackle the fire.

An explosion could be heard as gas canisters stored at the site were affected by the blaze at Burnt Mills industrial estate.