A MAN has been charged with arson after a spate of major fires.
Andrew Main, 47, of Rokemarsh, is accused of one count of arson with intent to endanger life and two of arson reckless as to whether life was endangered.
Main appeared at Oxford Magistrates' Court on Saturday where he was remanded in custody to appear at Oxford Crown Court on January 30.
A blaze ripped through South Oxfordshire District Council's offices in Crowmarsh Gifford in the early hours of Thursday morning. Thirteen crews from Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire were called to tackle the fire on the first floor at 3.20am.
Strong winds re-ingnited the fire on Thursday night and more fire engines were sent to the scene to assist crews already on site and a hydraulic platform was used to pour water on the fire from height. Flames were brought under control by about 9pm and one fire engine was at the scene on Friday morning damping down. Oxfordshire County Council has said that about 85 per cent of the building has been damaged by the fire.
Fire crews were also called to two other properties in the early hours of Thursday morning.
They tackled a blaze at a funeral parlour in nearby Benson Lane and a third at a thatched property at Quakers Corner, Rokemarsh, near Benson, where they were alerted by the occupier. Jean Gladstone, 80, managed to escape from the property safely.
Police said gas canisters were found at all three sites.
Council leader John Cotton said: "I'd like to express my thanks to the Oxfordshire fire service. It looks like their fast actions have saved a large part of the building and we're very grateful for that."
He said the authority had contingency plans for this kind of event and these had been set in motion.
But he added: "As you can see the planning department has pretty much disappeared."
A "skeleton staff" were now working from the council's offices in Abingdon, he added.
Thames Valley Police said nobody been reported injured as a result of these fires but the structures of the buildings affected were being examined for safety.
Taxi driver Raleigh Hullock, 50, had just dropped off his fare in Crowmarsh Gifford at about 7.30am on Thursday.
He told the Henley Standard: "The aerial platform was up and the jets trained on the building to knock the fire back. The first floor was totally alight."
Tash Altay, of Jethro Tull Gardens, Crowmarsh Gifford, saw firefighters tackling the blaze at about 6am. He said: ?Smoke was billowing away, going in the opposite direction to the houses in Howbery Farm or they would have been evacuated.
?We were 30 or 40 metres away from the building and you could see the blaze even though it was dark. The top floor on the north end was totally in flames.
?You don?t expect something like this in sleepy Crowmarsh Gifford. The police weren?t really saying anything so we could tell it was serious.?
Ann and David Beasley have lived in neighbouring Winters Field for more than 40 years and were woken up by the blaze.
Mrs Beasley said: ?We could see flames shooting up over the reception building and I said to David that it looked really bad.
?The noise was awful, it was like a fireworks display. You could hear glass shattering constantly and there were two big explosions, it was horrific.
?The flames crept along so quickly, there?s no way they could have saved the building. Water was gushing down but it wasn?t doing anything.
?I was really scared and shaken up. I rang my son and just burst into tears down the phone.
?I?ve never seen anything like this. We?ve already had nine phone calls from family and friends to see if we are OK. It?s very scary and upsetting when it happens on your doorstep.?
About 30 people were evacuated from their homes in Rokemarsh and the British Red Cross were helping them at Berrick Salome and Roke Village Halls.
A spokesman for the district council 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 says services affected by the fire include planning and building control, environmental health, finance and housing.
Services running as normal include waste collections and street cleaning, leisure centres, housing benefits payments and council tax payments.
Its online services have now been largely restored.
The council offices house about 400 staff, including those in the housing, planning, building control and leisure departments.