Fire disaster narrowly averted

A COUPLE who spent five years restoring an historic coach house have told how their New Year's Day was left in tatters when they had to call out the fire service to deal with a smouldering chimney.

Laurence Cawley

A COUPLE who spent five years restoring an historic coach house have told how their New Year's Day was left in tatters when they had to call out the fire service to deal with a smouldering chimney.

It was the first time Martin and Janice Sumner had lit the fire at their renovated home in The Street, Fornham St Martin, near Bury St Edmunds, since moving in about a year ago.

But although Mr Sumner had made sure the fire was out before going to bed, the insulation used in the chimney was smouldering away while the couple were asleep.


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Mr Sumner awoke at about 4am because of a nasty burning smell in the property and he could feel heat emanating from the flue so alerted the fire service.

The couple yesterday paid tribute to Suffolk fire service for the way they dealt with the situation.

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“They were absolutely terrific in the care and attention they showed,” Mrs Sumner said. “They even cleared up afterwards.”

The couple told how the firefighters laid down their own dust sheets before removing the smouldering insulation material from the chimney, to ensure as little damage as possible was caused to the couple's five year renovation project home.

“Their response was brilliant,” said Mr Sumner. “They've done virtually no damage at all and they brought their own protective sheets.”

Mr Sumner now believes the insulation material used, which was not the vermiculite he had requested but a material more akin to cork, was the wrong type to use in a chimney. And he warned others to double check the materials used in fires based on the couple's own experience.

When they bought the property - which sits beside the old rectory in the village - there were no stairs and the coach area for the horses was still in tact. Since then, the couple have completely renovated the property, built a new access and added an extension to its side.

The couple, who have just installed a new bathroom, are hoping the rest of their time living in the building will be less eventful than their New Year's Day.

“As my wife said this morning, the rest of 2009 can only get better,” Mr Sumner said.

One fire crew from Bury was sent to the scene and the incident was under control by 5.21am.

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