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Neighbours rally after Dilham fire

PUBLISHED: 10:25 08 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:59 30 June 2010

Neighbours have rallied round to help a couple whose 18th-century thatched cottage was devastated by fire at the weekend.

More than 40 firefighters from 10 Norfolk crews spent hours fighting the blaze, which began at about

5pm on Saturday at the home in Mill Road, Dilham.

Neighbours have rallied round to help a couple whose 18th-century thatched cottage was devastated by fire at the weekend.

More than 40 firefighters from 10 Norfolk crews spent hours fighting the blaze, which began at about

5pm on Saturday at the home in Mill Road, Dilham.

The first floor was gutted as well as the kitchen on the ground floor.

Yesterday, the roof had gone and the entire house appeared smoke damaged and still sodden by water, which was drawn by the firefighters from a river for the operation.

Owners Christopher and Stephanie Rowlands, who have lived there for more than 20 years, had been preparing a meal for friends when they noticed smoke billowing from the thatched roof.

Mrs Rowlands, 58, said: “The table was all very nice, my husband lit the fire, and we think that's what did it.

“We were shuttling back and forwards from the house and realised there was no smoke coming out of the chimney - it was coming out of the thatch.”

The couple called the fire service, and within 10 minutes crews were arriving from all over the north and east of the county, including Stalham, Wroxham, Great Yarmouth and Sprowston.

The family's eight cats and two dogs were all safely accounted for.

Since then, neighbours have been doing whatever help they can to assist the couple.

Although a wardrobe of clothes remained intact in a bedroom, the couple was having trouble getting to it and had only the things they were wearing at the time fire broke out.

Offers of places to stay, help to store furniture saved from the ground floor and clothes flooded in.

“Everybody has been so good,” said Mrs Rowlands, who works at a surgery.

Richard Herrell, of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, returned yester-day to assess the damage with a structural engineer. He said it had been a difficult fire to control.

“The challenge you've got with thatch, especially when you have got structural problems as well, is you can't get in,” said Mr Herrell.

“The trouble with thatch is it repels water. The only way you can deal with it is to rip it apart. It's a very frustrating and difficult fire to deal with.”

He added: “It's tragic: it has a massive impact on people's lives. They are putting on a very brave face.”

Last night, it was not clear whether the building could be saved. Mr and Mrs Rowlands were planning to look for a mobile home to move on to the land so they could continue to care for their pets.

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