'Sad day for East Devon' - owners of Newton Poppleford cottage destroyed by blaze speak of 'devastation'

PUBLISHED: 13:54 30 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:30 31 March 2017

Jeff Merrett MBE, chairman of Dream-A-Way, and Gill Freeman, trustee and event co-ordinator at the Dream-A-Way Diamonds Are Forever Ball,

Jeff Merrett MBE, chairman of Dream-A-Way, and Gill Freeman, trustee and event co-ordinator at the Dream-A-Way Diamonds Are Forever Ball,

Archant

The 'heartbroken' owners of a thatched Newton Poppleford cottage that was devastated by a blaze say they cannot thank firefighters enough for their efforts.

A photo of the thatched-roof that was destroyed in a blaze in Newton Poppleford. PICTURE: Lynne Pike/Barbara HoskerA photo of the thatched-roof that was destroyed in a blaze in Newton Poppleford. PICTURE: Lynne Pike/Barbara Hosker

Gill and David Freeman have pledged to rebuild the ‘perfect, chocolate box’ property that was home to their gardener Roy McClymont and his wife Pat for 13 years.

More than 60 fire crews from across Exeter and East Devon were called to the scene on the edge of Harpford Common at 7.20pm on Tuesday, but the cottage was ‘fully engulfed’ in flames at around 9pm.

Gill, the vice-chairman of charity Dream-a-Way and one of its trustees, told the Herald: “Initially, when Roy came over I thought, ‘the fire brigade will be here soon and it will all be fine’. I just saw some smoke coming out and the firefighters running in and out of the cottage for some of his and Pat’s treasured possessions.

“The firefighters were absolutely fantastic – I cannot thank them enough.

The remains of a cottage in Newton Poppleford after a thatch roof fire. Picture: GRAHAM MILLSThe remains of a cottage in Newton Poppleford after a thatch roof fire. Picture: GRAHAM MILLS

“The chief fire officer said to me, ‘I think you’re going to lose it’. The firefighters got onto the roof and were pulling off the thatch, but it just went up.

“It was complete devastation. You don’t accept it at first. I’ve met three or four walkers in the area with tears in their eyes. It was just a perfect, chocolate box cottage. We’re a tight-knit community. It was a sad day for East Devon.

“Roy and Pat are completely devastated. It might have been our property, but it was their home for 13 years. It’s all the little things. They have lost all that.

“They’re staying with friends. They’re a very private couple.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the fire service. They were still here at 11pm on Wednesday. The fire is completely out now.

“All that’s left is two chimney stacks and some brickwork. It’s just heartbreaking. From my bedroom window, the first thing is see when I open the curtains is the cottage. Now there’s just a gaping hole.

“We’re still coming to terms with it all. We would like to rebuild it, but with a more modern construction, hopefully it’s going to be better.”

Firefighters from Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary, Exmouth, Honiton and Exeter were all mobilised to the scene.

Paul McAllister, group manager for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Crews were faced with a difficult thatched-roof fire that was spreading throughout the roof. Due to the condition of the building, which is predominantly timber clad and thatch, we were unable to extinguish within three hours. The fire took hold and we suffered total loss.

“Initially, crews put themselves at risk getting all the occupants’ valuables out. The crews that were here salvaged as much as they could of the owners’ belongings and they were able to bring out items of high sentimental value.

“Thatched properties are of a concern to the fire service and we would urge all owners to have fitted working alarms and if they are using fuel fires that their chimneys are swept twice a year.”

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