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Homeowner of Elmswell thatched cottage devastated in fire tells of shock and sadness

PUBLISHED: 13:49 22 January 2016 | UPDATED: 14:01 22 January 2016

Over 10 fire engines attending a large thatch house fire in Elmswell.

Over 10 fire engines attending a large thatch house fire in Elmswell.

There were no injuries thanks to the quick work of dozens of firefighters from Suffolk and Norfolk.

The fire at the chocolate-box cottage – Halfacre, in Grove Lane – was attended by 10 pumps, one aerial platform and five other vehicles, including a command centre. Police helped to manage traffic.

When they arrived at the home, crews wearing breathing apparatus carried out “aggressive” firefighting inside and outside Robin Sherwood’s house.

Group commander Pat Dacey, from Bury St Edmunds fire station, was in control of the scene. He said much of the building had been saved thanks to the quick response and tactics and confirmed there had been no injuries.

“From the outset crews carried out some fairly aggressive firefighting tactics,” he said at the scene. “They fought the fire internally with hoses, working in tandem with crews on the outside, stripping the thatch to create a fire barrier.

Over 10 fire engines attending a large thatch house fire in Elmswell. Over 10 fire engines attending a large thatch house fire in Elmswell.

“Elmswell (firefighters) arrived on the scene pretty rapidly after we received the call at about 1.45pm. I would say they were here in seven minutes. We initially dispatched four pumps and on arrival Elmswell requested six and now we have 10 at the scene.”

Crews were expected to remain at the property last night and into this morning. Several hours after the blaze caught hold, the partially-collapsed roof was still smouldering in places.

Mr Dacey added: “We have a lot a water about and it is going to get pretty treacherous later when it freezes. I feel for those [crews] staying overnight.”

The pumps came from across two counties to tackle the fire. Engines from Princes Street in Ipswich, Ipswich East, Needham Market, Stowmarket, Bury, Elmswell, Ixworth, Newmarket and four from Norfolk attended.

Over 10 fire engines attending a large thatch house fire in Elmswell. Over 10 fire engines attending a large thatch house fire in Elmswell.

Mr Sherwood, 69, has been living at the home for around 15 years. He said: “It is shocking to see something like this happen to your home.

“I don’t know how much has been damaged. I don’t expect to be able to get inside to look for a while yet. There are family items upstairs that I will imagine are lost.”

At around 3pm yesterday firefighters were working to recover personal belongings, while continuing to strip thatch and use hoses to damp down the building.

Mr Sherwood said he first spotted smoke at the bottom of the chimney stack. “I saw a haze and realised it was smoke,” he said. “I called 999 immediately. It seemed quite small to start with.

“I got up on a ladder and tried to use the garden hose to fight it. It was no use as the hose was frozen so it was just a trickle of water. Whether it would have made any difference I don’t know.

“As long as the cat was sensible enough to get out and stayed away, thankfully no one has lost their life, and no one has been hurt, which is the main thing.

“You never think something like this will happen. If I did I would have probably have worked out an escape route.”

Grove Lane was closed from the junction with Ashfield Road and is expected to remain closed this morning while firefighters are in attendance.

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