Sunday, 26 May 2019

Cemetery house badly damaged in blaze

A FIRE that ripped through a Henley house is being treated as a an accident.

A FIRE that ripped through a Henley house is being treated as a an accident.

Police are investigating the cause of the blaze, which happened at the 19th century property at Fair Mile cemetery on Monday.

On Tuesday they said they were treating the incident as a suspected arson but on Wednesday ruled out this theory after further investigation.

About 40 firefighters were called to the blaze after a member of the public raised the alarm at about 9.15am. Four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the building amid fears that people may have been inside but the owners were out.

The house is owned by architect Cornelius Kavanagh, 49, and his wife Jennifer, 49, who live there with their two children.

The fire crews brought the flames under control after about 20 minutes but the two-storey detached property was badly damaged inside and about half of the roof was destroyed.

The fire is believed to have started on the first floor and at its height bright orange flames could be seen leaping out of the top of the property where the roof had fallen in.

Six crews from Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, along with four support vehicles and the police, were called to the scene.

Lincoln Ball, station commander for Berkshire, said: “When I got here there were lots of flames and smoke coming from the roof.

“It took about 20 minutes to put the fire out. The first crew got the water on quickly and brought it under control.”

During the drama, police directed the traffic rather than close the road.

Mr Kavanagh was at work in Reading when a friend called him and he drove straight home.

He said: “I have no clue what caused the fire. I think the fire brigade have done a really good job in containing the fire and preventing worse damage and I would like to thank them.

“Thanks to them, it looks like the house can be repaired. I am an architect and I am pleased to say it looks like it’s going to be possible to restore it. Most of the damage was to the 20th century extension.”

Mr Kavanagh, who stood for Labour in the Henley ward of the South Oxfordshire District Council elections in May, has lived at the house since 2003 with his wife and son Oliver, 21, who works as a barman at the Catherine Wheel pub in Henley, and daughter Madeline, 15, a pupil at Queen Anne’s School in Caversham.

The house was built in 1868 and was lived in by the gravediggers for the cemetery until 1993 when it was modernised.

Mr Kavanagh said: “I’m very fond of the house. It’s the former gravediggers’ house and we still know the last gravedigger who lived there. Since it was converted there have been two other owners.”

Firefighters were still at the scene damping down on Monday afternoon and had to remove tiles from the roof to give them access.

Mark Ames, a fire investigation officer, said the fire was likely to have been started by combustible material near a light bulb in a first floor dressing room.

Police are appealing for witnesses.

Dc Ollie Norridge: “I am keen to speak to those who helped raised the alarm in response to the fire and anyone who was in the area around 9am, maybe travelling to work, and who saw this fire. We are investigating the cause of the fire and any detail, no matter how small, will help establish what happened.”

Anyone with any information should call the Thames Valley Police non-emergency number, 101.

• Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has met its target for the average time it takes to attend an incident. During 2014/15, the service took an average of seven minutes and 29 seconds to arrive at the 5,905 incidents to which it was called. The target is to arrive at 80 per cent of emergencies in 11 minutes or less and 95 per cent of emergencies in 14 minutes or less.

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