AS thatched roofing enjoys a revival in Somerset, Taunton Fire Service say more fires involving the materials are happening than ever before.

Taunton fire station was called out to two thatched roof fires in the space of eight days this January and say people need to be educated about how to prevent and deal with thatched roof fires.

County Gazette reporter Alice Simmons visited the station on Lisieux Way and met Paul Chamberlain, Taunton Fire Station Watch Manager, to find out more about thatch fires.

Paul said: “In the first month of this year we were called out to two thatched fires in the space of eight days which to be honest is alarming as they are usually quite rare.

“One of the fires in Combe Florey saw us battling the flames for hours on end before a resolution came about.

“There has definitely been an increase in the amount of thatch roof fires in the last year and we feel people need to be better educated about how to prevent these fires before they even start.

“We want to advise thatch property owners and the public to be vigilant to thatch fires and the devastating effects they can have.

“What a lot of people do not know about thatch fires is that they are initially quite difficult to see as often the fire is contained within the thatch and can quickly spread.

“Often this is because thatch is built with thick layers which is difficult for us as fire crews to locate and extinguish.”

On January 11, Paul was just one of more than 100 firefighters tasked to extinguish a huge blaze at the Farmers Arms in Combe Florey.

When crews first arrived there was smoke issuing from the roof but finding the root of the fire was much more difficult.

As the fire spread, crews spent hours trying to extinguish the fire which left the roof and the upstairs of the pub severely damaged.

Tim Young, owner of the Farmers Arms, described the incident as ‘numbing’ and praised the fire service for their continued efforts to extinguish the fire.

Paul added: “The most recent fire we tackled was at the Farmers Arms in Combe Florey which was just a clear representation of how quickly things can change in thatched fires.

“We have a lot of different equipment we can use for thatched fires but because they are often hidden inside the thatch sometimes it takes a while to get to the source of the fire.

“One of thing we use often to combat fires in thatched properties is a compressed air foam which we squirt in using a smaller hose attachment.

“This is of great help to us because it allows us to squirt under the thatch and when the foam goes in it puts almost a barrier, a coating over the fire which prevents it from spreading and buys us more time to find the source of the fire.

“When we were fighting the Combe Florey fire it was extremely difficult for us as we didn’t have any floor plan of the building and didn’t know when we got there where all of the gas and power outlets were so it took us longer to shut off power.

“I would advise owners of thatched properties to keep a record of when their thatch was last changed and to maybe create a brief overview or plan of the building so if a fire does occur we can extinguish it as quickly as possible and minimise damage.”

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has produced a booklet of safety tips for thatched property owners warning them of the dangers of thatched fires and advising them how they can best protect their homes.

A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said: “Today on thatch properties only three materials are widely used, long straw, combed wheat reed and water reed, all of which will burn rapidly in a fire.

“Although thatch fires are not common, over 90 per cent of thatch roof fires start as a result of a faulty flue or chimney.

“The thatch is designed to repel water which makes extinguishing such fires difficult.

“It has been shown in tests that the thatch adjacent to the chimney can reach 85 per cent of the flue gas temperature after only one day of continuous use.

“One thing for thatched property owners to consider is forming a fireproof barrier between the roof timbers and the thatch layer when renovating or undertaking re-roofing.

“A thatch fire will be mainly restricted to the thatch and damage to the rest of the house will be limited.

“We would recommend that any owners of a thatch property produce a fire plan for their home.

“We advise for example that smoke alarms should be installed throughout a property and if space is available an interlinked smoke alarm should be installed.

“The installation of residential sprinkler systems, checking electrical systems and installing fire blankets are a great thing to install around a property as these safety tools can help slow or prevent fires before they become serious.

“We have lots of advice about how to deal with thatched fires and it is free to download.”

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