Man, 75, 'loses everything' in devastating fire in rural Norfolk

Man outside house destroyed in fire

Keith Gant, 75, outside his house the day after it was destroyed in a fire which started in a neighbouring field in Ashmanhaugh in rural Norfolk. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

A 75-year-old man has described how he lost everything in a fire that destroyed his home in rural Norfolk.

Keith Gant was left with only his T-shirt, jeans and Land Rover after an inferno which started in a neighbouring field ravaged two houses on School Road in Ashmanhaugh, a village near Stalham, during the heatwave on Tuesday (July 19).

The blaze saw neighbours rush out with hosepipes to try and stop the fire reaching other properties and dozens of firefighters attempt to save the homes from the flames.

No-one was hurt in the blaze but the occupants of the other gutted home, Trudie and David Calver, are believed to have lost their pet cats. 

Man outside fire damaged house

Keith Gant, 75, outside his fire-ravaged house on School Road in Ashmanaugh near Stalham in Norfolk. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

On Wednesday morning, Mr Gant, who had spent the night at his brother-in-law's in Blofield, returned to the village to survey what remains of the house he had lived in for 30 years.

Only the walls and chimneys were still standing. The roof had collapsed and the interior of the house was completely gutted, the plaster having come off the walls and the window frames having buckled and broke in the heat.

Fire ravaged house interior

The interior of Keith Gant's house, in Ashmanhaugh in rural Norfolk, was completely destroyed in a fire during the heatwave on July 20. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

In the back garden the grass was burnt, the trees singed and a smell of smoke still hung in the air.

The fire had also completely destroyed a shed, melting a pair of hedge clippers and scorching a lawnmower.

Lawnmower destroyed by fire

A destroyed lawnmower sits outside the ruins of a shed after a fire in Ashmanhaugh in Norfolk. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

The only signs of life were goldfish swimming in a recently-built pond.

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"I'm devastated," said Mr Gant. "I lost my wife three years ago. I've lost everything else now."

He had been sitting indoors at around midday, watching TV and eating his lunch with the curtains drawn to keep the heat out, when the smoke alarm went off upstairs.

"I ran up to see and I opened the curtains. All I could see was smoke and flames, so I had to get out quick," he said.

Man looks at goldfish in pond

Keith Gant looks at the goldfish - in the pond in his back garden - which survived a fire that gutted his home in Ashmanhaugh in Norfolk. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

Mr Gant fled from the house and was looked after by neighbours who provided him with cups of tea through the afternoon.

Seven fire crews and one water carrier from Hethersett, Earlham, Carrow, Aylsham, Sprowston, and Attleborough arrived at the scene.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service received close to 100 call-outs throughout the day and into the early hours of Wednesday (July 20) and a major incident was declared.

Mr Gant, who works on a farm, said the fire had also destroyed photographs of his late wife, Olwen, which he had put on a wall in the house.

"I'll miss her more than ever now. The house is insured but insurance doesn't bring memories back," he said.

Engineers repair transformer box

Power Networks engineers repair a transformer that exploded during a fire in Ashmanhaugh on July 20. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

Mr Gant used to travel around the county, making videos of farm machinery.

"I had 20 to 30 videos, they're all gone. The camera, the video player, the TV, they're all gone."

Apples roasted in a fire still hanging on the tree

Fire-blackened apples still hang on a tree the day after a blaze destroyed two houses in Ashmanhaugh in rural Norfolk. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

Next door, Hugh 'Nip' Smith, also 75-years-old, was "lucky".

The fire had spread to his garden and destroyed his garage and greenhouse - but his house had been spared.

"It was extremely frightening," he said.

Fire damage in a garden

A garage and a greenhouse at Hugh 'Nip' Smith's house were destroyed in the fire in Ashmanhaugh on July 20. - Credit: Daniel Hickey

Mr Smith heard the fire before he saw it, and he rushed outside and told his neighbours to get out of their house, before running back to his house to get his dog and take his caravan and Land Rover from the driveway.

He said that one man, who he did not know, had come to help.

The man used a hosepipe to prevent the flames from reaching Mr Smith's summerhouse and main house.

"If I could find him I'd like to shake his hand very hard.

"He is an absolute saviour," Mr Smith said.

He added: "I'd like to thank the fire service for the tremendous job they do in such difficult circumstances."

The day after a devastating field fire destroyed homes in Ashmanhaugh
Byline: Sonya Duncan

The day after a devastating field fire destroyed homes in Ashmanhaugh Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A family friend has set up an online fundraising campaign to help those who lost their homes. It has already raised more than £1,600 and can be found at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ashmanhaughfire

The gutted homes were owned by Hoveton Hall Estate, which covers 620 acres in the area. 

They said in a social media post that "several acres" of farm land had been destroyed on what they described as a "devastating" day. 

The day after a devastating field fire destroyed homes in Ashmanhaugh
Byline: Sonya Duncan

The day after a devastating field fire destroyed homes in Ashmanhaugh Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

They said: "Fields will recover but our hearts go out to the families who have lost literally everything due to the fire spreading to nearby homes.

"Please everyone stay safe and anything we can do for the families affected we are here to help.

The day after a devastating field fire destroyed homes in Ashmanhaugh
Byline: Sonya Duncan

The day after a devastating field fire destroyed homes in Ashmanhaugh Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

"Thank you to everyone who came out to help. Without the heroic efforts of the fire service and the fabulous village residents things could have been much worse."