An Exeter Co-op faced a potentially lethal situation when two men set fire to a cylinder of combustible gas while trying to steal the internal cash machine. The would-be thieves carried the cylinder to the store on Prince Charles Road and lit a fire in an attempt to ignite it.

However, the duo were spotted and ran off after the emergency services were called. The fire was quickly contained, but the risk of explosion forced a prolonged closure of the store. The contents of the cylinder, acetylene, is mostly used for welding and cutting purposes, and generates a huge amount of heat when ignited. Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue were forced to erect a cordon around the store to let it cool down and prevent further damage. Those living close to the store were forced to leave their homes until the danger of explosion was over.

“The key thing was to keep the temperature down,” said station commander Jim Laker. “With acetylene, if it reaches self-decomposition, it generates its own heat and will then explode.” According to Devon & Somerset police, there was more than £65,000-worth of damage done to the store, which has since re-opened. A Co-op spokeswoman confirmed the men had escaped empty-handed. Two men were later arrested in connection with the incident at the store.

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