Stoborough residents lucky to escape lightning strike fire

A freak lightning bolt is believed to have started a blaze which gutted a pair of thatched cottages in Stoborough in Dorset during a brief but intense thunder storm.

The residents of Clematis Cottages in Stoborough Meadows were lucky to safely escape their homes after the fire quickly spread across the thatched roofs, shortly after 10 pm on Sunday 19th May 2024.

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Stoborough fire of thatched cottage
Swanage Fire Station

Swanage fire crews joined the battle to save Clematis Cottages as part of a 50-strong deployment

Fire took hold in thatched roof

Fire took hold in the roof spaces within minutes and a couple from one of the homes and a single woman who lived in the other semi detached property had to leave immediately, with almost no time to save any belongings before burning thatch fell into the bedrooms and filled the homes with dense smoke.

At least two more people also had to be evacuated from an adjacent house as dense smoke made it dangerous for them to stay at their home. Fortunately, nobody was injured during the blaze.

Neighbours described how they rushed outside after hearing ‘an almighty crack’ and seeing smoke pouring out of the roof of 29 and 31 Stoborough Meadows.

Firefighters from Wareham Fire Station were on the scene within 10 minutes of the blaze starting and were joined shortly afterwards by two appliances and crews from Swanage.

A wire mesh over the roof to keep out birds meant that the fire crew were unable to pull the thatch off and it quickly burned through the roof space into the first floor before the fire spread to the ground floor.

By morning, there was little left of the roofs and the inside of the buildings had been gutted

“It was like a bomb going off”

Speaking to Swanage.News, local resident Daniel Jones said:

“The lightning struck the house on the left, possibly on the rolled steel joist above the window. Wareham fire officers were really quick to turn up, but there wasn’t much they could do to save the property.

“I’ve never heard anything like that lightning strike, it was like a bomb going off. You always think that thunder is the loudest part of a storm, but there was just one little rumble and then this huge bolt of lightning.

“I rushed out to see what was going on. One of the ladies in the cottage had come out in her nightclothes and was banging on the door of her neighbour to make sure that she got out, too. Other neighbours were also evacuated, which was a good job because of all the smoke.”

DANIEL JONES

Neighbours played their part in raising the alarm and making sure that residents evacuated their homes

Stoborough fire of thatched cottage
Swanage Fire Station

Fire had already spread into the bedrooms as fire fighters tried to get the blaze under control

Some 50 fire fighters on the scene

At the height of the incident, about 50 fire fighters were on the scene from Wareham, Swanage, Poole, Hamworthy, Redhill Park, Wimborne and Springbourne.

There was also a water carrier from Poole, an incident command vehicle from Hamworthy, a support appliance from Poole and the aerial ladder platform from Westbourne.

Relief crews were at the scene all through the night and until midday on Monday 20th May 2024 to make sure that the roof was dampened down and not likely to catch fire again.

Group manager, head of protection fire safety Graham Kewley said it was very difficult to prevent a fire being caused by lightning

“Very difficult to stop fire in a thatch”

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service group manager Graham Kewley, who was at the scene, said:

“We received the first call at 10.18 pm to smoke in the area, suspected to be a lightning strike to a property and our first crew, from Wareham, was on the scene by 10.28 pm and found the roof to be well alight.

“They attempted some salvage and made sure that the occupants were evacuated, then based on information that they were not going to be able to firefight internally, their priority was to protect adjacent buildings, then attempted to extinguish the fire in the thatch.

“It is very difficult to stop fire in a thatch – the seat of the fire was over one of the bedroom windows, there was wire mesh over the roof which would have carried the lightning further and there was very little to prevent the fire spreading from one home to the next.”

Most of the burning thatch fell through the roof into the bedrooms and destroyed the houses from within

“Things could have been very different”

Graham Kewley added:

“Inside, the property is pretty much burned through, the weight of the burning thatch fell through the ceiling and some of it came down the stairs to the ground floor.

“Thankfully, the residents got out safely and without injury. It is very difficult to prevent fire due to a lightning strike.

“But we would advise residents of any property and especially thatched homes to have an emergency plan in place and access to a grab bag of important documents and things that they need to assist with the salvage.

“If it had been later in the night and there had not been so many people around, things could have been very different.”

Hotspots in the roof space were still being dampened down 12 hours after the lightning strike

Cottages did not have fire boards

Guidance for properties with thatched roofs known as the Dorset Model, calls for boarding inside the roof which would slow or prevent burning thatch from falling into the home and gives the fire service more time to get into a property and salvage valuables.

Although advocated by the fire service, it is not a legal requirement and Clematis Cottages – which are only about 30 years old – did not have boarding.

Gable ends and the chimneys of the buildings are thought to be at risk, but safety inspections will be made over the coming days.

Neighbours who live opposite Clematis Cottage said it was frightening how quickly the fire spread and that they were afraid for the safety of the people who lived in the property.

DANIEL JONES

Fire engines arrived on scene within 10 minutes of callout

DANIEL JONES

Other homes in Stoborough Meadow were evacuated because of the thick smoke over the residential road

“Home went up in flames so quickly”

One neighbour told Swanage.News:

“I was going to bed, but suddenly there was a noise like an explosion which made me jump and a flash of lightning which was so close I thought it was right overhead.

“We could see smoke coming from the property cottage and other neighbours alerted the lady in the right hand cottage, who was in her night clothes. They had to bang on the door of the other home to alert the couple in the other cottage.

“It was such a big bang, and the home went up in flames so quickly, it was really scary. The fire engines turned up quickly and we were told to keep windows closed because there was so much smoke.

“No one got very much sleep – it was the kind of thing that you see on the telly but never expect to see over the road from your own house.”

GOOGLE MAPS

Clematis Cottages in Stoborough before the fire

Fire has already spread into the bedroom as fire fighters try to keep the blaze under control
Swanage Fire Station

During the fire as the blaze quickly spreads

The shell of the houses will be tested for structural safety in the coming days

Evoke the feeling of a rural village

Fire crews worked with SSE (Scottish and Southern Electricity) overnight to make the scene safe and with building control officers during Monday to test the structure of the cottage.

A decision will be made on whether the building will need to be demolished in due course.

Homes in Stoborough Meadows were built in the 1990s, with a couple being given thatched roofs to evoke the feeling of a rural village centre.

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