Residents suffered a double whammy when workmen ruptured a gas mains three days after slicing through an electricity cable.
Flames estimated to be three to four feet high shot from the 12m trench dug by South East Water to lay a new water main.
Lindfield High Street became a no-go area as contractors tried to bury the flames with excavated spoil before fire crews arrived. The all-clear was only given 15 hours later with firefighters on site for the duration and nearby residents suffering an afternoon and night without gas for heating and cooking.
Residents Christine and Terry Oliver watched the drama from their home after one set of neighbours had been evacuated.
Christine said: “It was a very, very long trench and, initially, the flames were as high as the wall behind, so probably about three to four feet in the air. They died down when they buried them with the rubble but when it got dark they came back again, although not as high as originally.”
Mr and Mrs Oliver said they were philosophical about the inconvenience of no gas or heat for 10 hours on Monday but furious because the incident followed the electricity mains debacle on Friday when they lost power for nine hours.
Christine said: “It seemed to us that they were totally incompetent. SEW and their contractors should hang their heads in shame and look forward to claims from residents for the inconvenience caused.”
Neighbour Angela Filmer added: “It’s not fun when you are older to be without heat for such a long time.”
South East Water apologised for the electricity and gas incidents with delivery manager Chris Love explaining: “Before we carry out work we undertake trial holes in the area to map the existing services which are in the ground. Due to the nature of the ground within Lindfield and the incidents we have encountered, we are taking extra precautions to install our new pipeline and as a result are hand digging in areas suspected of having shallow services. Once again I would like to apologise for any inconvenience these incidents have caused and thank the local community for their ongoing patience.”
UK Power Networks isolated power to 33 properties for 35 minutes after the gas leak. It said it encouraged firms doing work to contact it for advice and free maps to help avoid cables.Hannah Brett, for Southern Gas Network, said it hoped to finish repairs on Tuesday and restore gas to the main affected property yesterday. She added: “We are continuing to work closely with South East Water while we complete our investigations into this incident.” n See letters