Friday, 20 July 2018

Arrest made after major fire at Council offices

A ?MAJOR? fire broke out at the South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district council office in Crowmarsh Gifford this morning (Thursday)

A CAR was driven into the South Oxfordshire District Council's offices before a huge blaze ripped through the premises this morning (Thurday), say police.

Thirteen crews from Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire were called to tackle the blaze on the first floor of the two-storey building in Crowmarsh Gifford at 3.20am.

Thames Valley Police say the incident is "not thought" to be linked to any terrorist activity.

The force says a 47-year-old local man has been arrested on suspicion of arson and is currently in custody.

Officers are currently investigating two other fires in the area and believed they are all linked.

Only minutes before, firefighters were called to another fire at a funeral parlour in nearby Benson Lane and a third at a thatched property at Quakers Corner, Rokemarsh, near Benson.

A statement from the force said: "At this stage the police investigation is focusing on all three fires being linked and are believed to be suspicious. It is believed that a vehicle collided with the SODC building prior to the fire.

"There are cordons in place at all three locations and residents and motorists are asked to avoid these areas.

"Nobody has been reported injured at this time as a result of these fires, however following these fires the structures of the buildings affected are being examined for safety.

"This is being investigated as a criminal act and is not thought to be linked to any terrorist activity."

Taxi driver Raleigh Hullock, 50, had just dropped off his fare in Crowmarsh Gifford at about 7.30am.

He told the Henley Standard: "It looked as if a vehicle had been driven into the reception area. That's either been set alight or caught alight and sent the whole building up."

Mr Hullock, from Wallingford, managed to get to within 50 yards of the building adding: "The aerial platform was up and the jets trained on the building to knock the fire back. The first floor was totally alight."

David Etheridge, Oxfordshire?s chief fire officer, said: ?We are in the process of dealing with three major fires in South Oxfordshire, which occurred within a very short time-frame.

?These are ongoing incidents and our firefighters are working hard to get the fires under control with assistance from neighbouring fire and rescue services at the district council fire.

The district council confirmed on Twitter that most of its services would be disrupted by the ?major? fire.

A spokesman said: ?We are putting our business continuity plan into place to make sure the effect on the most important services is kept to a minimum. We will set up an emergency phone line for people who have urgent enquiries.?

The council offices house about 400 staff, including those in the housing, planning, building control and leisure departments.

Vale of White Horse District Council staff moved into the building from Abingdon as part of a cost-saving measures by the two councils.

Credit: Karl Mitchell-Shead from Illusion Fireworks, Wallingford

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