Sound of crashing slates alerted housesitter to blaze at Thelnetham, Suffolk

A housesitter has described how she heard a sound 'like a slate being kicked across the floor' before going outside to find fire ripping through the roof and first floor of her daughter's north Suffolk home.

Christine Smith, 64 was looking after the farmhouse at Reed Farm in Thelnetham for her daughter Sally Sloan, 40 and son-in-law Graham Sloan, 44 while the couple were away in Austria on holiday with their two children Jessica, nine and Thomas, 11.

Mrs Smith, who had flown in from Spain, had been outside feeding horses shortly before 8pm on Sunday and had returned indoors to watch the end of ITV show Dancing on Ice when she heard the sound of crashing slates. However, she added there was no smoke downstairs or any other signs of the inferno raging on the first floor.

She said: 'As I walked across the hall, I could hear the noise was coming from outside. I opened the door and my daughter's car was there and it was glowing red and I thought 'my God the car is on fire' and then crash, a tile came down off the roof and landed between the car and me. I turned round and looked up and the roof was on fire.

'I was just distraught. There had been no sign of any smoke in the living room and the first I knew about was when I heard the crashing sound.'

She then tried to phone the fire service, but the line was dead so she ran up the road to her nearest neighbour Brian Green, 74, to raise the alarm and he made the call.

He then helped her rescue the Sloans' labrador and two border terriers, Tilly, Dylan and Fizzy, which were still in the house, while a goldfish, a number of PCs and furnishings were also retrieved.

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Up to 10 fire engines from Norfolk and Suffolk attended the incident at 9.30pm and stayed for six hours to ensure the blaze had been extinguished.

John Wilcock, group commander for Suffolk Fire Service, said the roof was severely damaged, while two upstairs bedrooms had been completely destroyed and the downstairs suffered water damage, leaving the house uninhabitable. He did not know what caused the blaze, but said it was unlikely to be arson.

Mrs Sloan, who had bought the property as a dream home after moving from Kent, was liaising with insurers to find a place to stay when the family return from holiday on Sunday.

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