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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - South West: Monday February 6, 2006

Fire Investigation

Fire fighters in training exercise
Fire investigation - a precise art

More than half of all fires in the South West of England turn out to be arson.

When fire breaks out, its not just property that's destroyed, but lives and livelihoods too.

But the trouble with arson is the crime itself often destroys the evidence.

This presents a huge challenge indeed for the fire investigators.

It's Bill Harvison's job to find out whether the fire was ceased by accident or arson?

He's Devon's first full time fire investigator:

"Fire naturally degrades evidence by a process of burning so the faster we can get there the sooner we can observe that.

"We treat every fire scene as a possible crime scene and the last thing we want to do is ignore evidence which then becomes damaged and is not usable in court."

Investigating a fire

Inside Out joins Bill on a training course to see how he and the fire fighting team tackle the aftermath of a fire.

It's exercises like this which prepare the team for the real world.

We then join the team at a real pub fire in Plymouth.

Scene of fire
Vital evidence - fire investigators search for clues

The first port of call is the fuse box - a blown fuse could identify the source of the fire.

But something's wrong - it turns out that a colleague, worried about electrocution, has flicked every switch.

This was a mistake because crucial evidence may have been lost.

In fire investigation, every detail counts - even the sort of flames the fire produced.

After two hours, Bill hasn't found anything suspicious.

Then the owner arrives - he locked up the pub before the fire, and it's Bill's job to interview him.

There's a puzzle over the cellar hatch - the owner says he remembers closing it when he fell through it.

Breakthrough

But when Bill checks the hatch, the story doesn't appear to sense.

In addition the cellar access in the pavement has been forced. Arson is back on the cards.

Bill calls in a sniffer dog to check for traces of flammable liquids like petrol or lighter fuel.

Fire exercise with fire man
Dampening down the flames

Then comes a breakthrough.

The fire crew confirm they forced the outside cellar door to put out the fire, and it turns out the inside hatch may have been left open after all.

So attention turns back to the electrics.

Seven hours after he started the investigation, Bill finally finds what he's looking for.

Despite the confusion, the open hatch was a big clue - the electrical fault probably triggered when the owner fell through it.

For Bill it's mission accomplished - all that's left is the paper work.

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Tavistock Canal

Mine wheel
Man made wonder - the Tavistock Canal and its industrial legacy

Inside Out looks at the remarkable story of the Tavistock canal, and reveals how it played a major role in the South West's thriving economy during the 19th Century.

Engineering innovations

The Wheal Friendship Mine near Tavistock is ideal for a quiet Sunday afternoon stroll.

But it's not quite what it seems.

Delve a little deeper and it tells the story of a remarkable man who, two centuries ago, overcame seemingly impossible obstacles to create a lasting legacy.

In 1800 Morwellham on the Tamar was one of the most important inland ports in Britain and the surrounding area, with its rich mineral deposits, was a magnet for ambitious scientists and engineers.

But all that changed when John Taylor arrived to manage the mine in 1798, at the tender age of 19.

He set about making use of Dartmoor's most abundant resource - water.

In the process he kick started an incredible series of engineering innovations.

Challenges

Taylor had improved the mine's productivity but he wanted to tackle the problem of the awful journey to the Tamar.

The Tavistock Canal takes its water from Abbey Weir and then emerges at Tavistock Wharf, where ores and other goods are brought down ready for loading onto horse drawn iron barges.

John Taylor
John Taylor - innovator and engineer

The canal is less will than five miles long but sets Taylor some daunting challenges along its short route.

First he has to get it over the Lumburn valley, so - he built an aquaduct.

Then, two and a half miles out of Tavistock an even bigger obstacle blocked his way, rising 500 feet above the proposed level of the canal - Morwell Down.

Then he discovered copper and opened up Wheal Crebor mine in true pioneering fashion.

The wheel got its water from the canal, yet more evidence of Taylor's ingenuity.

Thriving industry

The canal carried almost a million tons between the Tavy and the Tamar over the next 30 years.

Tavistock became a thriving industrial town, and Taylor's canal contributed to a prosperity that saw it rebuilt in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Canal and man in canoe
The Tavistock Canal today - a leisure playground

But in 1859 the latest advance in transport technology arrived - railways.

Despite this the canal lived on as a supplier of water power.

It remained a prime energy source for mines such as Bedford United well into the 20th Century.

And then, work started on a project that ensured the canal lives on into the current century.

Morwellham Power Station was threatened with closure in the 1980s but, thanks to cost cutting and global warming, its future is now secure.

The canal is also an important recreational resource today.

Later life

After leaving his mark on the Tavistock area, John Taylor went on to greater things on the world stage - his achievements earned him a Fellowship of the Royal Society.

His name survives today as one half of the construction giant Taylor-Woodrow, who built the spectacular Welsh Assembly building.

But in the South West he'll be remembered for a modest little canal that's already been in productive use for two centuries, and is still very much part of a greener future.

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Lighthouse power

Lighthouse
Going solar - new power sources are being exploited

Experts say that we all need to be a lot greener if we're going to stop global warming.

Inside Out visits the South West lighthouse which is at the forefront of plans to use more sustainable energy.

Russell Labey presents one man's story of a solar panel project with a difference.

Huge challenge

Dave Steer is about to face the biggest challenge of his career.

He's flying to Longships Lighthouse at Land's End where he is converting one of Britain's most remote buildings from diesel to solar power.

The job will last five months and Dave's men will have to live out on the lighthouse for two weeks at a time.

"You can never forget you're on a lighthouse... It's a job full of danger and difficulties," he says.

And for Dave and his crew it's an entirely new experience.

Lighthouse Trinity House, the group that runs most of Britain's lighthouses, is having them converted to solar power.

Video diary

Because it's his first time on a lighthouse Dave is keeping his own video record of the Longships' project

Dave's task is to disconnect and remove the old diesel powered system and install solar power in its place.

Top of lighthouse
Tough at the top - a tricky job in tough conditions

It sounds straightforward enough but it proves to be a logistical nightmare.

Dave is hoping to have the job finished for Christmas 2005, but it's touch and go whether his team will make it.

The solar panels go on first but it'll be months before they're working.

Then they won't need all the old fuel tanks.

There's no way they can get them up the stairs, so Dave's crew has to manoeuvre them out the window.

Confined life

If the job itself wasn't enough to contend with, Dave's men have to endure almost prison-like conditions for 14 days at a stretch.

All their fresh water has to be flown over so they come up with some ingenious ways of conserving it.

It can also seem like a long way down to that bathroom in the middle of the night so the men have 'pee pots'.

Old time keepers would spend two months on a lighthouse, and bad weather could make it even longer.

Dave's tour of duty might seem short in comparison - but it's long enough - and the team are feeling home-sick.

His men are also facing another gruelling job - the new back up generator has to be installed.

It's one of the most dangerous jobs they've performed so far.

Solar power

The solar panels will power giant batteries, which await a perilous flight out to the lighthouse.

The men have to get them out to the lighthouse first, but thick fog is making this impossible.

Just when it seems that time's running out, the fog lifts and the batteries make their way out to Longships.

The new system is just about ready - but will it work?

A week later commissioning engineer Dick Penna comes to find out.

Everything's working. Dave can pack up and go home - but it's with mixed feelings.

It's been a tough five months for Dave and his crew but they finish more or less on schedule.

Thanks to their efforts mariners can count on enjoying a more eco-friendly, and safer passage through the surrounding waters.

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