Fire aftermath: St Albans businesses face uncertain future

The buildings on the industrial estate are well alight as the fire takes hold.

The buildings on the industrial estate are well alight as the fire takes hold. - Credit: Claudia Charlton

St Albans businesses have been left counting the cost of a devastating fire which gutted their premises this week.

Thick black fumes were seen from miles away as the inferno, which started at a car workshop, ripped through a row of commercial units.

Monday's blaze at London Road Business Park was only brought under control thanks to the efforts of 100 firefighters and 12 pumps, as well as an aerial ladder platform and a control unit.

Residents in nearby Orient Close were evacuated from their homes in case the fire spread.

Several businesses were completely destroyed, including CrossFit St Albans - which belonged to the husband of Holby City actor Rosie Marcel - Combat Gym, MAC Testing and Follett Motors.

Heroic Keygan Cyrus, 41, who works in sales and marketing, spotted the smoke after leaving a meeting at Verulam Golf Club, and immediately rushed to help.

He realised mechanics in the workshop were unaware of the fire to the rear of the building, and swiftly ushered them to safety.

Keygan Cyrus alerted mechanics of the fire behind their workshop.

Keygan Cyrus alerted mechanics of the fire behind their workshop. - Credit: Danny Clare

Most Read

"As we reached London Road there were loud bangs as cannisters started exploding. If I hadn't got them out when I did then they could have still been there when that started happening," said local resident Keygan, who suffered from mild smoke inhalation because of his efforts.

CrossFit St Albans owner Ben Stacey revealed how his gym was evacuated during the middle of a class as the fire took hold: "The firefighters and the police were phenomenal. What a service we have in this country!"

The devastation at the London Road Business Park is evident to see.

The devastation at the London Road Business Park is evident to see. - Credit: CFSTA

He is now fighting to save the business he set up nine years ago and support his 11 coaches and their families.

"There is nothing left. It's catastrophic. Our staff don't have jobs, we have no equipment and no venue.

"After Covid it was tough to get business interruption insurance as gyms closed during every lockdown, so we're trying to raise enough money to pay two to three months wages while we look for a new home."

All that's left of CrossFit St Albans after the fire.

All that's left of CrossFit St Albans after the fire. - Credit: CFSTA

Men's Health cover star and social media influencer Zack George is donating all the profits from his clothing collaboration with MP Activewear to CrossFit St Albans.

Metal melted in the searing heat.

Metal melted in the searing heat. - Credit: CFSTA

The CrossFit GoFundMe page has already raised thousands of pounds - visit https://bit.ly/3OzwtcP to donate - but just as important is the need for alternative premises.

The ruins of CrossFit St Albans.

The ruins of CrossFit St Albans. - Credit: CFSTA

"We're struggling to find one," added Ben. "Many private landlords don't want gyms in their facilities, but we really want to stay in St Albans where we've built up an amazing community."

Holly Thompson, a member of St Albans Combat Gym, is also appealing for the public's support.

"Along with parts of the building itself all of the gym's equipment and the coaches' belongings, as well as irreplaceable champion belts were all destroyed. Combat Gym isn’t just a gym, it is our community, and for most of us, it’s our sanctuary.

"The coaches at Combat Gym have supported many of us through some of the most challenging times of our lives. It only just survived during all of the lockdowns and coronavirus pandemic, so to then receive such a catastrophic blow is absolutely devastating.

"They have set up a GoFundMe page to try and raise money to help keep the community going and to continue helping their members, both physically and mentally. After almost 20 years of hard work, they find themselves back at square one, without a single piece of gym equipment to keep them going."

Simon Tuhill, assistant chief fire officer at Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said he was "immensely proud" of the firefighters who attended the scene.

Cllr Danny Clare added: "As a close neighbour and someone who has used a number of businesses on the London Road Business Park, I find it heart-breaking that their tenancies have ended this way. In my role as lead councillor for business, I want to do what we can to help get everyone back on their feet ASAP. 

Ben Stacey surveys what is left of his business of nine years.

Ben Stacey surveys what is left of his business of nine years. - Credit: CFSTA

"With the imminent private development of this site, a number of businesses were already finding it a challenge to secure new premises; this has now been exacerbated. Recent changes to planning law have reduced the number of light industrial spaces, some have also faced resistance from landlords about the type of business they want on site. 

"We are looking into any council-owned facilities that could help in the short term. I welcome contact from any business owners that I haven’t spoken with as yet. 

"I also appeal to private landlords and ask what you can do to help save one of these businesses? Do you have an industrial/retail/out of town unit that might be able to help here? Can you change your retail/service mix policy and allow a gym or garage on site?"

Thick black smoke rises over St Albans

Thick black smoke rises over St Albans - Credit: Craig Shepheard

If you can help provide alternative premises for any of the businesses affected by this devastating fire, contact Cllr Danny Clare by email at deeclared@icloud.com