A MUCH-loved mobile fish and chip van exploded in flames on a quiet village green - caused by a fat build up in an extractor fan.
The van, owned by Terry Garner, visits villages across North Yorkshire on different days of the week for 32 years.
It caught fire while on its scheduled stop at Hutton Rudby, near Stokesley, at about 1pm on Saturday (February 9) afternoon.
Mr Garner tried in desperation to put the fire out with two fire extinguishers as he stood in the doorway while shouting to his partner Jean Stubbs to jump out of the window, which she did.
The fire quickly took hold and gutted the van. Eye witnesses reported seeing an explosion as the fat inside the van went up in flames.
Fire crews from Stokesley, Northallerton and Coulby Newham attended the scene as it was feared there were people still inside the van.
However, both Mr Garner and Ms Stubbs escaped although Mr Garner, 66, had to be treated at the scene with oxygen for smoke inhalation.
The blaze was extinguished by firefighters using a hose reel jet but it was totally destroyed.
Mr Garner, who converted the van himself, said: “It was a bit of a shock. I tried to put it out but it had taken hold so I just got out as fast as possible.
“We then stood and watched it burn and it was awful – everything was flashing in front of me. I had parked it in reverse and it started moving back towards some parked cars before stopping.
"As it burned it made a dreadful noise, almost like it was alive and it was screaming."
Mr Garner, of Leeming, added: “I love my job – it is my life as well as my livelihood. We know our customers so well they all give us Christmas cards, and Jean knows all the pensioners’ orders off by heart and she even delivers them to their doors if they can’t get out to the van.”
He said he hoped to have a new van and be back on the road within weeks.
“I am going down south tomorrow to look at a new van,” he said. “I won’t know what to do with myself until we get back up and running.
“We went on holiday at Christmas and I said to Jean, I know it sounds funny but I can’t wait to get back to the van.”
The van stops at villages including Romanby, Brompton, Appleton Wiske, West Rounton, East Harlsey, Ingleby Arncliffe and Swainby, all near Northallerton, on Tuesdays; Shipton in Beningborough and Tollerton, near York, on Wednesdays; Great Ouseburn, near Boroughbridge, Linton on Ouse, Newton on Ouse and Flawith near Helperby on Thursdays, RAF Leeming on Fridays and Hutton Rudby on Saturday lunchtimes.
North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue said the fire was caused by a build-up of fat in the extractor fan.
Hutton Rudby resident Pam Ridgway said: “They will be sadly missed as their fish & chips were the best in the area.”