A MODEST dog walker who leapt over a zoo’s fence to put out a fire has praised firefighters for quickly coming to his aid.

Stuart Jeffery, 42, was on his nightly dog walk in Stanway on Sunday evening when he spotted a fire inside the grounds of Colchester Zoo.

After alerting Essex Fire Service, he feared one of the animal enclosures could be alight.

“I couldn’t stand thinking of animals being burnt and jumped the zoo’s fence, as luck would have it a water hose was directly in front of me," he said.

“The fire had made a 4ft hole in the fence.

“My first thought was I hope that something dangerous isn’t kept in there, but then I realised whatever it is it would be more scared of the fire than to bother with me.

“Once I got the fire under control I could see it was just a boundary fence and not an enclosure.”

When Stuart heard the familiar sound of fire engines on the nearby Maldon Road, he jumped back over the fence to alert the crews.

Stuart said a zoo warden emerged from a bungalow in front of the main zoo entrance to let the engines onto the grounds.

He said: “As the professionals had arrived I made my way back towards my home, back past where the fire was and it had reignited.

“I jumped back over to keep a hose on it until the firemen could navigate their way to the fire.

“They didn’t release I was behind the fence and nearly took me out with their fire hose. That thing is powerful.”

He added: “The zoo warden said it was lucky I was passing as the wooden building next to the fire was full of timber.”

Stuart contacted the Gazette to express his thanks to the fire service for reacting so quickly to the callout.

“I was very impressed with how they dealt with it, I’ve never had to phone the fire service before and hopefully I won’t have to again but within about five minutes of me calling they were there,” he said.

“I called 999 and my call was answered within one ring. I was put through to the fire department instantly. I was asked clearly for my information and in a professional, polite manner.”

An Essex Fire Service spokesperson said: “Firefighters were called to a fence fire at a zoo in Maldon Road, Stanway at 7:46pm on Sunday.

“On arrival, crews reported that a fence was on fire and worked with a passing dog walker who spotted the fire to extinguish the fire by 8:06pm.

“Firefighters believe the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette.”

The Gazette contacted the zoo for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of going to press.