'Scooby, your kitchen's on fire!' - how town crier saved pub couple
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
The owners of a village pub destroyed in a fire have said they owe their lives to the town crier who woke them up in time to evacuate.
David ‘Scooby’ Whitehair and his wife Mandy Whitehair were fast asleep early on Saturday, when at about 6.30am a fire started in the kitchen of the Windmill Inn at Necton, near Swaffham.
“Me and Mandy sleep at one end of the building, so we were at the furthest point away from where the fire started,” said Mr Whitehair.
“In the restaurant [part of the pub], we have heat detectors, but the fire was in the kitchen, so it didn’t ping the fire alarm,” he added.
Their neighbour, Breckland councillor Nigel Wilkin, happened to be making breakfast.
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“As I walked into my kitchen, I could faintly smell something, and I just thought my wife might have cooked something the night before and burnt a bit of plastic on the hob,” said Mr Wilkin.
“While I was making the coffee and doing the porridge, it got a bit stronger, and I thought: what the hell is that smell? I could then see wafts of smoke out in the back garden,” he added.
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With the smoke increasing, Mr Wilkin went to investigate the cause.
“Still in my dressing gown and slippers, I walked round and I could see the smoke was coming out of the tiles of the roof. I knew that wasn’t right, and it was obviously on fire,” said Mr Wilkin.
“I went and banged really hard on the door, and I could see their upstairs window opening,” he added.
It was then that Mr Wilkin’s skill for bellowing came into its own.
“I’m actually the town crier for Swaffham, and I’m also a wedding toastmaster, so I’m used to using a very loud voice,” Mr Wilkin explained.
“I’m shouting: Scooby - your kitchen’s on fire!”
The couple rushed downstairs, called 999 and got out.
“The fire officer said that if it had been 10 minutes later, it [the fire] would have caught the upstairs flooring, and it’s the smoke that kills you, not the fire,” said Mr Wilkin.
Strong winds meant the smoke was blown behind the pub, and was not visible from the street.
“People were walking by with their dogs and didn’t know the pub was on fire,” said Mr Wilkin.
Mr Whitehair said of Mr Wilkin: “We owe our lives to him… If he’d been in bed, and we’d been in bed, well, it’s not worth thinking about.
“I don’t know if there’s enough words I can say to him,” he said.
Mr Whitehair was also full of admiration for the fire crews, who came from Dereham, Swaffham and Watton.
“We can’t praise them enough. They were amazing… They’re not only dealing with the panic of the fire, they’re dealing with us as well.
“We were so stressed, and they were so calming,” said Mr Whitehair.
The fire’s cause has not been identified, but arson has been ruled out.
As well as coronavirus restrictions, the pub experienced a flood in August 2020.
“I’m just hoping tomorrow’s not going to bring a plague of locusts,” said Mr Whitehair.
The pub was last year awarded a certificate for services to the community during lockdown, in recognition of their work helping the vulnerable with shopping, and other voluntary efforts.
Later on Saturday, local resident Christine Moore set up a GoFundMe page to help the couple, which has received more than £3,500.
“They do loads for the village. We thought it was about time the village rallied round them,” said Ms Moore.
The fund came as a wonderful surprise.
“We knew nothing about it, until our son told us. We’re just blown away with it all,” said Mr Whitehair, who added that the village shop had also put a collection bucket out for them.