POLICE set up a 200-metre exclusion zone and horses were helped to safety after gas canisters exploded during a barn fire near York.

William Thompson, who was celebrating his 14th birthday, joined his family and neighbours on the animal rescue mission.

National cycle route 66 was also closed to protect cyclists from danger as four fire crews from York, Huntington and Acomb fought the blaze.

The drama began shortly before 12.30pm when the fire broke out in a barn off Intake Lane near Dunnington.

William’s mother, Christine Simpson, was at her home nearby when she saw what she thought was dust rising from the barn.

“Then I realised it was a fire. As soon as I got outside, it started exploding,” she said.

The explosions are believed to have been caused by gas canisters in the building, which is used as a workshop.

Firefighters called in police to seal off an area 200 metres wide around the barn because they feared more canisters would explode.

Six horses were caught inside the zone. Firefighters broke down part of the fencing of a field whose gate was in the exclusion zone so Ms Simpson and William, plus his older brother George and the horses’ owner, could get at three of the horses and take them out using a safe route.

Ms Simpson said: “It is a birthday he will remember. There has been an adventure sort of theme today.”

Howie the pony and horses Joseph and Emma were led to safety. Ms Simpson’s own horses, Donald and Noah and pony Alan, could not be moved because of their position in the exclusion zone, but remained calm after the initial alarm. She kept an anxious eye on them as the afternoon progressed, but believed they would be all right.

Firefighters located more gas canisters and carried out cooling operations that were expected to continue until later today. The cycle route was reopened by 4.30pm.