THIS was the scene at a quiet country cottage near Ilminster after a blaze ripped through its thatched roof at the weekend.

Dozens of firefighters from across the county and beyond were called to the incident in Donyatt on Sunday afternoon.

Firefighters say the blaze started in the chimney of the cottage after the tenants of the property – two men in their 20s – lit an open fire at lunchtime.

Owners Rachel and Mark Pearce, who live in nearby Sticklepath, said they received a call from the neighbours of the cottage just after 1pm.

Rachel, 47, said: “It was a big shock and we rushed down to the scene, and the firefighters were already there.

“The fire alarm went off, so the tenants got out okay, but we were worried the fire might spread to the next cottage because it got into the thatch.

“Thankfully the firefighters were able to remove the thatch and create a fire break which stopped it from spreading.

“It is always something you worry about when you have a thatched cottage.”

The cottage’s occupants, who were not hurt, have moved out of the property and are staying with family in the Ilminster area.

Rachel said the cost of the damage was not yet known but said she and her husband were in the process of speaking to the insurers.

She added: “We are just trying to look at the positives and thankfully no-one was hurt and the fire didn’t spread.

“There is a family living next door and if the fire had started in the night I dread to think what might have happened.”

Firefighter Paul Godwin said: “Crews were initially called to a chimney fire but it soon became apparent the fire had spread to the thatch around the chimney.

“At its height about 70 firefighters from across Devon and Somerset and the neighbouring Dorset Fire Service were at the scene.”

An investigation to establish the exact cause of the blaze is under way.