Two die in wedding fireworks blast
A man and woman have died following an explosion at a lakeside wedding celebration.
It is thought the two casualties may be firework technicians who had been booked to stage an evening display at a luxury property in Ecclerigg, Cumbria, off the shore of Lake Windermere.
They had joined around 70 guests who had gathered to mark the wedding of local insurance boss John Simpson and his partner, Nicole Rothwell, who were said to have married earlier in the week.
Witnesses and neighbours spoke of an "almighty bang" at about 3.15pm yesterday followed by a series of "smaller bangs and pops", with one comparing the initial sound to that of a wartime bombing.
A shed containing the fireworks erupted into flames and spread to another outbuilding and a parked car nearby.
Witnesses at the adjacent Brockhole Lake District Visitor Centre said the noise of fireworks continued for about 20 minutes before firefighters arrived on the scene and doused the blaze.
The Tree Top Trek adventure centre at Brockhole was evacuated as a precaution with many families present, while staff ensured the site did not pose a fire hazard.
A man who attended the celebration, who did not wish to be named, said: "It was a beautiful sunny day and then there was this almighty bang and then the fireworks started going off.
"I thought this was the wrong time for it, we were wondering why it was being held in the bright daylight.
"The shed was somewhere behind the marquee so I couldn't see the flames but there was debris all around and I could see a large plume of smoke.
"All the guests were running away. It was terrible. Obviously a lot of people were very upset, everyone was in shock. Nicole was obviously extremely upset."
He said photographs of the wedding party, including the bride and groom, had been taken before the explosion within the grounds of Larch Cottage and that a band had began playing earlier in the afternoon.
Neighbours John and Enid Battersby, who live opposite, both compared the noise that rocked the serenity of the afternoon to the Manchester Blitz of 1940 when the German air force bombed the city centre.
Mrs Battersby said: "It was very frightening. It was an enormous explosion which I had not heard anything like since the blitz in Manchester.
"There was this one big sound followed by further smaller bangs and pops and a cloud of smoke then drifted over as all the police cars and fire engines arrived."
Stuart Halliwell, operations manager at Tree Top Trek, said a member of his staff was on the scene before the emergency services and helped direct guests away from the fire as he called the fire brigade.
He said : "He was brilliant. He recognised the seriousness of the situation straight away as daytime fireworks are not normal. They must have been going off for between 10 and 20 minutes.
"It is obviously a tragedy but it could have been even worse than it was."
A joint inquiry into the cause of the fire has been launched by the police and the fire service.
Parts of the property - with the marquee still in place - were cordoned off today as forensics investigators attended the scene.
The cottage and other surrounding residences within the same grounds have private jetties at Lake Windermere.
The newlyweds were unavailable for comment.
It is understood that the two victims may not be identified for several days because of the severity of their burns.
Sources said that the remaining guests and workers at the reception were all accounted for and uninjured.
A spokesman for Cumbria Constabulary said: "Police are continuing in their investigation into a fire at Ecclerigg where two people died.
"Police were called at 3.35pm yesterday after a shed containing fireworks was on fire. A vehicle near to the shed was also damaged by the blaze.
"Two bodies, believed to be a male and a female, were found.
"Police and the fire service are investigating the circumstances that led to the fire."
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service said four appliances arrived to find a "well-developed fire".
A spokesman said: "At 15.32pm firefighters were called to deal with a serious fire involving two adjacent outbuildings in the grounds of a large house in Ecclerigg, near Windermere.
"Four fire engines from Windermere, Ambleside, Staveley and Coniston were sent to the scene and crews found a well-developed fire involving the two outbuildings.
"Four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus used two hose reel jets and compressed air foam to bring the fire under control."