HUNDREDS of workers fled as balls of fire exploded into the sky above Crewe Gates Industrial Park.
The black plume of smoke, seen as far afield as Nantwich, put a dark canopy over the area on Monday and sparked fear over any chemicals it contained being breathed in.
Parents were called to collect children from a nursery on the site and were seen running to cars parked outside the emergency zone, covering babies’ faces.
From the safety of grass verges along Crewe Green Road, they watched the drama unfold and swapped stories of their escape from the businesses where they work.
Staff at Cheshire Bespoke Tailoring, about 100 yards away from Aztec Chemicals, were on deadline to finish a batch of morning suits for the Royal family to wear to Ascot.
With access sealed off, they, like many others, had to leave their cars and be evacuated on foot.
Seamstress Vivienne Thorley said: ‘We were putting the sleeves in when police came telling us to get out. We tried to go back and shut the windows to save our work but we couldn’t get anywhere near.
‘We kept hearing these great ‘booms’ as drums shot into the sky and exploded. The heat was so intense, the leaves on the trees wilted.’
The MMU Cheshire campus opposite was turned into an evacuation centre for workers and children from the nursery, Kids Unlimited.
Borough councillor Chris Waling was one of the parents who rushed to pick up their children. He said: ‘Staff did a great job keeping all the children calm until parents arrived.’
Edna Dalzell, a quality controller at Dairygold Ingredients, said: ‘It seemed to start with a small fire and then within minutes, there were fireballs exploding. We got everyone out fast and sounded the alarm to make sure no one was left behind.’
A site worker, who asked not be named, said: ‘I got out before being told. Once I saw the black smoke, I thought ‘I’m not hanging round for this.’ I know some of the buildings have asbestos roofs and didn’t want to breathe in that.’
Anthony Beardmore, a warehouseman at Fastenings UK, said: ‘I saw oil drums fly up about 200ft into the sky and explode. The sound was rapid, like a machine gun fire. My wife called to see if I was OK. She could see the smoke from our garden in Austerson, and that’s miles out of Nantwich.’