Cat wakes couple as fire rips through their North Devon thatched home
A couple have lost their centuries old North Devon home to an inferno which ripped through its thatched roof yesterday.
At its height, more than 80 firefighters tackled the blaze at Downwater Cottages, Horns Cross, which is on the A39 between Bideford and Clovelly.
Miraculously residents James and Maxine Wilcox said they were alerted by their cat just before 4am.
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"It has been such a shock," said Mrs Wilcox.
"As soon as we realised what was happening we got out of the cottage and called the fire brigade. I'm just glad the cat woke me up."
Incident commander Jeff Harding said: "This was a major incident.
"We know from experience that fires in thatched roofs are very labour intensive so we automatically dispatch a large number of appliances and specialist appliances like water bowsers."
Mr Harding said that the owners realised something was amiss as soon as they woke up, despite the smoke alarm not yet sounding.
"They got out of the property and they called us out."
He said that when firefighters arrived, evidence of the blaze was not immediately visible from the outside.
However, once inside crews were able to see the loft hatch was glowing and knew that the thatched roof, which is shared by two neighbouring properties, was on fire inside.
Firefighters doused the exterior of the roof in a specialist foam which soaks into the thatch, slowing the progression of the fire and buying valuable extra time.
"Our focus was on moving the personal belongings of the occupier while trying to stop the fire spreading into the extensions either side of the thatched property," said Mr Harding.
"I am really proud of what the crews here have done and how hard they have worked to save the extensions and as many belongings as possible.
"They managed to shift so much in about 30-45 minutes."
An investigation was yesterday ongoing into the cause of the fire, however early indications are that it was accidental.
The cottages are only a few metres from the side of the busy A39, which was shut by the Highways Agency for the duration of the operation and for much of the day.
While crews tackled the blaze, British Red Cross fire and emergency support service volunteers Keith Finch and Nathan Dale comforted Mr and Mrs Wilcox in their customised vehicle.
Mrs Wilcox, 68, said they made a real difference.
"It was absolutely freezing outside so it was nice to be able to get into the Red Cross vehicle," she said.
"It was lovely and warm and the chaps made us a cup of coffee. Both Keith and Nathan are very friendly and chatty and they have been able to put us at ease. I really appreciate and admire them very much. The Red Cross do such a brilliant job – they really are wonderful."
Mr Finch, a volunteer for ten years, praised the fire service: "They have been able to salvage probably 95% of the couple's belongings. Obviously Mr and Mrs Wilcox are very upset and shocked, but they are both safe and well, which is the most important thing."