Three families have been left counting the cost after fire ripped through their homes yesterday (Tuesday) evening and now the local community is rallying to help.
The blaze, which happened at around tea time at row of three properties in Walpole Cross Keys has completely destroyed one home, seriously damaged another with the third being mostly affected by smoke and water damage.
Ten fire crews attended the fire, the cause of which is not yet known, including units from as far afield as Fakenham and March.
The owners of the house that was left completely ruined, named locally as Shona and Barry, were out at the time as were their neighbours Sandra and Ian Hodgson.
The third family Alex and Rachel Jones and one of their sons, Morgan, were at home at the time. Their other son Oliver was on his way home from college.
Sandra, who had been helping out at her sister’s in Sutton Bridge, described how she saw the glow and smoke of the fire as she returned home around 5.20pm.
“I could see there was a large fire, as I got closer I realised it was our house,” she said.
Her property adjoins 116 - Shona and Barry’s home, where the fire started.
“It spread through the roofs, our roof has completely gone and the ceiling has also collapsed. We don’t know how much other damage has been done, although we know there will be lots of smoke and water damage caused by the fire crews trying to put it out. We haven’t been able to get back in yet,” said Sandra.
Her and Ian have been overwhelmed with the amount of community support already given this morning. Jephson Village Hall was open last night for firefighters to use, as they tackled the blaze a few 100 yards up the road in Sutton Road.
This morning the hall was open again for the weekly K & S Auction, which is run by Kathleen Smith and her family.
They opened earlier than usual to offer free food, including a fried breakfast, to the fire fighters and to the families affected by incident.
“We just had to do something to help, we will be offering food and drinks all day today,” said Kathleen, whose dad James Smith was also on hand to help co-ordinate items donated for the families, including bedding, toiletries and food.
James said: “This is everybody’s worst nightmare and we just wanted to do something to help out. Kathleen has been cooking breakfasts and making hot drinks all morning. We have also been sorting out donated items and storing them for the families.”
Ian said: “We really appreciate everything people have done to help us. People have been very generous.”
Sandra described how her first instinct on arriving home was to try to rescue the couple’s three dogs, but Ian had already arrived a few minutes earlier and got the pets out.
“Normally they would have been shut in the living room which has a wall joining with where the fire was next door but for some reason one of the dogs refused to be left in there when we went out, so luckily they were in the room at the back, so it was easy to get them out,” she said.
However, their tortoises Rosie and Jim were trapped in the living room where they were in hibernation.
“I tried to get to them, I put a towel over my face and tried to get in but then I realised I had nothing to carry them so I went back out to get something. When I tried to get back in the smoke was too bad and I just couldn’t get to them,” said Sandra.
However, the couple had some good news this morning when fire fighters rescued the tortoises and found they were both OK.
“We think the fact they were hibernating probably saved them because they are sort of shut down and so probably didn’t breathe in too much smoke,” said Sandra.
However, at least three cats belonging to the other two families perished in the fire.
All three families are now looking for temporary accommodation.
“We are lucky we come from a large family who all live locally so we have had plenty of offers of places to stay,” said Ian.
The Jones family have been offered a caravan and Alex was planning to check it out today.
“We would like to be able to stay on the site, so I’m going to have a look at the caravan,” said Alex, who said his family had initially been alerted to the fire by a noise before someone started shouting at them to get out.
“Our house has not been as badly damaged as the other two, it is mainly smoke and water damage, but until we get in we really don’t know what we’re facing,” said Alex, who like Sandra and Ian is grateful to those who have donated essential items.
A fire crew was still on site at lunchtime today while an investigation is underway to determine what caused the fire.