A FIRE in a flat above two shops in Henley yesterday (Thursday) was caused by pans being left on a hob while the occupant was out.
Duke Street was closed for an hour and a half as black smoke could be seen billowing out of the open windows above Laurence menswear and The Sole Man cobblers at about 3.30pm.
Click here to watch our special video report from the scene of the fire.
Police closed off the road until 5pm at its junctions with Greys Road and Hart Street as crowds started to gather.
Four fire engines, including one from Berkshire, arrived on the scene. Fire crews gave the female occupant, Kristina Chochliwska, 41, oxygen before an ambulance arrived but no one was hurt.
Marcus Reay, the incident commander who is station manager of Henley Fire Station, said the Miss Chochliwska had left the pan on the hob when she went to pick her daughter Natalia, six, and a friend, Alicia, eight, up from Trinity School and returned to find the fire.
He: “The fire was starting to spread into the ceiling and rapid actions from the first crew ensured that the fire did not spread.”
He said six firefighters in breathing apparatus extinguished the fire before using fans to clear the smoke from the property. They then searched the building to ensure everyone was out.
Alicia's father, Jonathan Taylor, of Greys Road, Henley, said he said he was coming back from Reading when he saw the smoke coming out the window of the two-bedroom flat.
“You can imagine my horror as I was walking down the road and thought she was in the building,” said Mr Taylor, 41.
“Thankfully she wasn’t in there. She had been walking back from school when she got to the building and saw the smoke coming out. She didn’t go in and was fine.”
An employee in Rudi Kartal said the woman who owned the flat ran into the salon with her sister, daughter and her daughter’s friend.
She didn’t speak English and spoke to fire officers through her sister.
The employee said: “She was obviously quite concerned about her flat. She barely said a word to us, just used the toilet and was panicking about the fire engine not turning up.
“The two young girls were quite spooked and scared.”
Zsombor Darabam, 27, who lives in the second-floor flat above, believed the fire had been in the kitchen.
Mr Darabam, a chef at Loch Fyne in the Market Place, said: “I smelt the smoke and someone was ringing the doorbell. It was heavy smoke inside.”
A number of shops had to evacuate as police officers arrived on the scene.
Jason Kempton, who owns The Sole Man, dialled 999 after a passer-by alerted him.
He said: “When he told me there was smoke coming out I then smelt it. I work in a shop with a lot of nasty smells so I didn’t notice it initially but then I heard the fire alarm.”
Tim O’Sullivan, who owns Sullivans menswear shop, opened an entrance at the back of his shop to fire officers so they could get to the roof.
He said it was “annoying” having to close his shop on a sunny day when he could have expected good business.
Laurence menswear was open for business today and owner Laurence Morris said there was no damage to his shop.
“The firemen did a great job and I’m very thankful that everything is okay,” he said.
“It was a case of cleaning up and making sure there was no noticeable signs of damage today. They didn’t use too much water to put out the fire.”
Mr Morris said he believed the fire had “pretty much destroyed” the kitchen and there was a lot of damage to the flat. He was told the occupant stayed with her sister last night.
Ann Hale, a receptionist at The Morgan Clinic, said: “We saw smoke coming out the window and a lot of people outside on the street. Police then told us to go outside.”
Lucy Tooher, 25, had agreed a sale on the flat next door.
She said: “Thankfully it hasn’t gone through yet. We want to have a look at the flat to see if it’s okay.
“The fire service took about 25 minutes to arrive. The Berkshire fire engine arrived before the three Oxfordshire engines.”
For the full story, pick up a copy of next week’s Standard.