THE owner of a family tool hire business has spoken of his devastation after watching £1m worth of stock burn to the ground.

The main warehouse of Gem Tool Hire & Sales Ltd in Banbury was caught up in a fire that started in neighbouring business, Oak Cash and Carry.

Almost 100 firefighters from Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire battled the blaze from about 8.30pm on Friday.

A fire service chief said the blaze could have been a lot worse, with the tool hire firm’s warehouse yard containing dozens of explosive gas canisters.

Police installed a 200-metre cordon around the warehouse and closed Beaumont Road on Friday.

Over the weekend small explosions, thought to be from aerosol cans, lighter fluid and beer kegs, were still being heard coming from the cash and carry. Fireworks also appeared to be involved.

Yesterday a 25-metre cordon remained in place as fire crews started their investigation into the cause of the blaze.

Gem Tool Hire & Sales Ltd managing director Stephen Moore raced to the scene after a colleague phoned to say the cash and carry was on fire.

He watched as the blaze spread from the cash and carry to the main warehouse of the company his father, Gordon Moore, had founded.

Mr Moore, who has worked for the firm for 30 years, said: “My father started this business in 1979. To see this lot go up in flames is devastating.

“I stood there watching it, with the flames licking over, thinking, ‘Are these guys going to be able to hold it back?’”

Banbury Cake:

Mr Moore, pictured, said the 6,000 sq ft warehouse contained between £750,000 and £1m worth of stock and equipment and was “completely tot-alled” by the fire.

The company’s nearby office block is still intact and a new warehouse, three doors from the burnt-out former space, has been saved.

Over the weekend, employees of the firm were transferring what was left of their stock – machinery stored outside – into the new warehouse.

The fire also took out the company’s main computer system, which staff were also trying to re-establish over the weekend.

Mr Moore, who lives in Banbury, said: “The whole business has come to a grinding halt – at least until we get the computer system working.

“We are going to continue to trade once we get the phone lines up and running.

Gem Tool Hire & Sales Ltd employs 33 staff – Mr Moore said their jobs are not at risk – and has a turnover of about £1.5m. As well as the main warehouse, it has satellite units in Bicester and in Rugby, Warwickshire.

No one was in the warehouse or cash and carry at the time of the fire.

Neighbouring pet store, Pets at Home, had to be evacuated by the fire service due to smoke. The animals were returned on Sunday.

Chris Wilson, Oxfordshire Fire Service station manager, said: “I was on the scene within a couple of minutes of the call and at that stage the smoke and flames issuing from the building’s roof were 50ft or 60ft into the air, causing a large smoke plume to descend over Banbury.”

Over the weekend firefighters dismantled external walls, some of which had already collapsed, and used water in “massive” quantities to cool down the site.

No one was available from Oak Cash and Carry to comment.