September 21 2014 Latest news:
Friday, March 21, 2014
The owners of a home gutted in a devastating thatch fire are today trying to rebuild their lives.
Annie Hand was alone in her “dream cottage” in Battisford, near Stowmarket, yesterday evening, oblivious to the fire that had started above her at about 4.50pm.
It was only when one of her neighbour’s friends banged on the door that she got out and realised the “nightmare” that was developing around her.
She said: “I was at home when it started, totally unaware that it was alight. The neighbour was banging on the door and said ‘your house is on fire!’”
“When I was outside I saw the thatch was alight below the chimney. I went round the back to get the dogs and it had already spread. It was clear it had been burning for a while.”
Ms Hand was at the home, in Mill Road, waiting for her partner Ian Bell, who works in Hertfordshire for a logistics and freight firm, to return.
She said: “He was coming off the A14 when the fire trucks came past and the bowsers - but thought they could not be for us. He then followed them up the road home.”
“It’s the worst nightmare if you live in a thatch. You take the risk but you don’t think it’s going to happen.
“We’ve just finished the garden and it looked wonderful; now look at it. But I got out and we are alive and that’s the main thing.”
Around 50 firefighters battled to control the fire but by the time they arrived it had already taken hold of the 16th century property’s thatch.
The road was closed as the emergency operation continued into the night. Around dozen neighbours rallied to help the fire crews save countless items of personal property. Quick-thinking residents erected gazebos to protect the possessions from rain.
Ms Hand said: “The neighbours were just fantastic, they put gazebos up in the garden. The firefighters were just throwing out things out of the windows, trying to get as much out as possible.
“It’s an amazing community, it’s very supportive. The road was shut, it was all blocked - no-one could get up or down - we knew something monumental had happened.
“We’re now waiting for the insurers to come. We now need to find somewhere to live - this is not a short-term project - it will take six months to a year (to rebuild the cottage).”
The couple has lived in the Grade-II listed five-bedroom home for more than three years after moving from Berkshire. Two of the bedrooms are in an annex which has survived the fire.
Ms Hand, who formerly worked as a project manager, said the couple had always taken precautions with their home’s log burner.