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Firefighters from two counties tackle thatch blaze...

Fire crews from Hampshire and Wiltshire are continuing to fight a blaze which broke out this afternoon in a thatched cottage in Wherwell.


Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service was called at 12:50 on Monday, 16 February to a fire in a two-storey farm property. Control operators mobilised crews from across the county to the village of Wherwell, which is said to be the most attractive of the villages in the Test Valley and is characterised by its many thatched and timbered cottages. 


On arrival crews from Andover found a well-developed fire and immediately began creating a break in the thatch in order to prevent the fire spreading to a nearby barn. 


The Andover crews were joined by firefighters from Whitchurch, Pewsey, Eastleigh, Ludgershall, Sutton Scotney, Winchester, Salisbury, Overton, Stockbridge, Wilton, Kingsclere, and Amesbury. More than 70 firefighters tackled the incident, with support from Eastleigh’s multi-role vehicle, three water carriers, the Incident Command Unit, Winchester’s Special Equipment Unit, Basingstoke’s Aerial Ladder Platform and the Emergency Catering team. 


The British Red Cross Fire and Emergency Support Service (FESS) team of volunteers also attended this fire, offering a warm, safe environment for the occupiers to stay in whilst firefighters tackled the blaze.


Area Manager Mick Crennell today praised the firefighters in attendance from both Hampshire and Wiltshire for their handling of this incident stating:


“The initial efforts enabled us to successfully contain the fire and prevent further fire spread to the nearby barn. Unfortunately salvage operations had to cease during the incident due to the property’s chimney becoming unsafe. The initial alarm was raised by the owners of the property - who heeded Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s advice to ‘get out, call the fire service out, and stay out!’  Fires in thatched roofs are not common, but once a fire gets a hold on a thatched roof it is very difficult for the Fire Service to extinguish without removing all of the thatch covering; this is an arduous labour intensive task which renders the building unusable until expensive repairs are carried out.”


Six hose reels, three jets, and 40 sets of breathing apparatus were used during the fire to remove the thatch, damp down the property, and carry out vital salvage duties. Although the incident is now scaling down, relief crews will continue to be in attendance at the scene to carry out regular checks of hot spots using thermal imaging equipment.


Assistant Chief Officer Steve Hamm, Head of Community Safety of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, today reinforced key messages for owners of thatch properties.


“More than 90% of fires in thatched properties are caused by faults in the flue or chimney. In other words, over 90% of thatched property fires are preventable. By following a few simple precautions householders can eliminate most of the risks of a thatched roof fire,”

he said. 


Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service offers the following recommendations in order to help prevent fires in thatched roofs:

      Keep chimneys in good condition; re-point or line as necessary;
      Ensure any person working in or on the house is aware of the dangers which careless use of naked flame can bring;
      Run electric wire in conduit;
      Any re-thatch or major ridge job should have all material taken from around the chimney so that it can be checked and repaired if needed;
      Smoke alarms should be fitted, low voltage mains powered linked alarms are available. Most thatch fires start in the roof space and, due to the thickness of the roof, may not be apparent for many hours;
      All electrical wiring in the loft space should ideally be routed in appropriate fire retardant ducting;
      The chimney, if used by any appliance producing flue gases should be linked according to the manufacturer's specification and, in the case of solid fuels, should be swept regularly;
      The top of the stack should be no closer than 1.8 m from the ridge vertically and, in the case of a stack in the wall, 4 m vertically from any thatch surface;
      Spark arrestors should be fitted and maintained/cleaned on a regular basis;
      Do not build, rebuild or design chimneys which pass close to or through thatch without; appropriate expert advice;
      Do not pass metal and other heat conducting flues through thatch;
      Do not hold barbecues, bonfires or firework parties close to the house and be sensible with garden fires;
      Do not allow use of blow lamps in the roof space;
      Do not allow flame stripping of paint around eaves on thatched windows;
      Do not cut recessed lighting into the ceilings below the thatch. Light fittings within the roof space should be in a bulkhead fitting;
      External floodlights should not be located just under thatch overhangs.

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