FIRE chiefs are warning owners of thatched properties to check their homes following a fire at a pair of cottages in Piddlehinton.

Group manager Chris Hewitt of Dorset Fire and Rescue said householders should check inside the roof space where chimney fires can start.

He said: "Thatch fires don't happen often but when they do the impact can be much higher. Owners need to make regular checks to ensure brickwork in chimney stacks is sound.

"A fire from a chimney stack can happen in any property but where there's a thatch and it's dry a fire can really get hold before anyone notices and it can spread very fast."

He added: "With some old properties you can't even get into the roof space - there's no hatch. We've attended a fire in a house with a slate roof where we had to cut through a ceiling to check the roof space."

He said thatched houses should also have spark arresters to stop sparks falling on to thatch.

Group manager Hewitt said new thatched homes were constructed to higher standards than old cottages. Modern measures made them safer but fires had still occurred when the thatch ignited from an external source.

The new method for thatched roofs was pioneered by West Dorset District Council and developed with other authorities to form the Dorset Model which has been adopted nationwide. It has led to new homes being built with thatched roofs.

Fire chiefs also called for all householders to make sure they have smoke alarms fitted throughout their properties.

The Piddlehinton cottages were well alight by the time the first engine arrived on Tuesday night.

The fire is believed to have started in a chimney at Lantern Cottage and spread rapidly to the adjoining property, 2 Rectory Road.

Lantern Cottage was gutted but firefighters were able to save the second property by pulling off the thatch and making a fire break.

More than 100 firefighters from across the county tackled the blaze using 12 engines plus support vehicles Group manager Hewitt said: "It was a substantial incident and needed a lot of manpower."

He added: "It's fortunate that nobody was injured and that it happened early in the evening."

Group manager Steve Mant, who also attended the fire, said: "With a thatch fire you always have to decide what to save and what's going to be lost - you can't save it all.

"In this case it was a good result to stop the fire spreading. A lot of the work was a salvage operation. We got everything out of the cottages that we could."

He paid tribute to villagers who opened the village hall to store possessions belonging to Mrs Rebecca Pearce of Lantern Cottage, and her neighbours Bernard and Julie Roughton and their son Alister, seven.

He said: "It was a long night and a cold night and we were grateful to everyone for what they did."

  • AN appeal for the Roughtons is under way.

The property was not insured following a flood at the cottage five years ago when companies refused to cover it. Contact parish councillor Sara Milne on 01300 348400 to make a donation.