Thatched cottage destroyed in blaze

A PENSIONER was taken to hospital after her thatched cottage became engulfed in flames and threatened to destroy neighbouring properties.

Dave Gooderham

A PENSIONER was taken to hospital after her thatched cottage became engulfed in flames and threatened to destroy neighbouring properties.

More than 50 firefighters from across three counties battled the blaze at Withersfield, near Haverhill, for four hours yesterday morning.

A woman, believed to be in her 80s and the only resident of the property, was taken to hospital after she managed to escape from the early stages of the fire.

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Fire crews were unable to save the village home which had already destroyed most of the thatched roof by the time they arrived at 4am.

But their actions were praised by senior officers for managing to ensure the massive fire did not spread to neighbouring properties.

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Assistant Divisional Officer (ADO) Mark Steggall said: “We were originally called to what was described as a kitchen fire, but by the time the first crews arrived the fire had spread to the thatched roof.

“We had ten crews here at one stage but we struggled with the amount of water required to put out a thatch fire. We had no chance of ever saving the roof so the priority for the crews was obviously making sure the female resident was alright and salvaging what they could from the property.”

Two crews from Haverhill were initially called to the fire but due to the severity of it, they were quickly joined by crews from Bury St Edmunds - including the town's turntable ladder - Wickhambrook, Clare, Long Melford and Sudbury as well as Linton, in Cambridgeshire, and Saffron Walden and Sible Hedingham in Essex.

As the clean up operation continued yesterday, with crews expected to remain at the property for most of the day, residents paid tribute to the work of the firefighters who ensured there was only minimal damage to other neighbouring homes.

One homeowner, who did not want to be named, said: “The fire crews did extremely well and we are very grateful. The lady who lives in the house woke us up shouting that her house was on fire.

“She even went back into the property to get her handbag. She was very shocked but not injured. We called the ambulance just as a precaution and she was taken to hospital.”

ADO Steggall added: “Another priority was to try and protect the two surrounding properties and this was a very person-intensive job. The crews worked extremely hard to reduce the damage of any other properties as there was a serious risk as both had thatched roofs and were in very close proximity.

“The fact that the two houses either side did not get involved in the fire is credit to the crews who attended, especially those from Haverhill.”

Although the initial call was to a kitchen fire, investigators were yesterday at the scene in an attempt to uncover exactly how the blaze started.

n A woman died after a fire broke out in her Great Dunmow home. Fire crews from Dunmow and Leaden Roding were sent to the property, in The Close, at about 12pm on Friday.

They used special breathing equipment to get into the house, which was heavily smoke-logged, but were unable to save the woman.

It is understood that the victim was in her 50s and was disabled.

An investigation into the cause of the fire has been launched by both the fire service and Essex Police but it is not currently being treated as suspicious.

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