Update: Fire investigators identify halogen heater as probable cause of Sedgeford blaze where a woman’s body was discovered.

Portable heater too close to furniture was likely cause of devastating fire

Fire investigation officers have identified a portable heater as the probable cause of a fire at a house where the body of an elderly woman was discovered last night.

Police and fire teams have been at the scene today in a bid to establish how the blaze started.

The fire was so severe that there were fears the building, a converted chapel, would collapse as a result.

The roof and first-floor had already been destroyed and the property remained as a shell after the blaze spread quickly through the two-storey building.

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A fire service spokesman said officers had remained on the scene in a bid to identify the cause of the fire.

Emergency services were initially called just after 7am when an off-duty firefighter was flagged-down on his way to work by a member of the public.

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He was able to alert the control room as to the severity of the blaze at the property at the junction of the B1454 Docking to Heacham road with Snettisham Road.

Norfolk's Asst Ch fire officer Roy Harold said it was unusual for a firefighter to call in a job, but it had meant he was able to relay specific information.

'John Lynden, a member of the Urban Search and Rescue team, was driving to work when he saw the smoke. He was flagged down by a member of the public and he phoned the call in with detailed information on the severity of the fire,' he said.

'It was a very severe blaze and the building was in danger of collapsing,' he added.

The fire service's sniffer dog, Ben, along with a search and rescue dog were also called to the scene as a matter of routine.

Some 40 firefighters were involved in tackling the blaze – described by one neighbour as being 'vicious'. The emergency operation involved drawing water from the Heacham River which runs through Sedgeford because of the need for extra supplies.

Station manager Tim Edwards, based at King's Lynn, said crews from Sandringham, Heacham and Hunstanton were among the first to arrive. He added: 'It was clear we were faced with a very severe fire at that point.'

He said the first floor of the property collapsed shortly after those crews had arrived and this was followed later by the building's roof.

Other fire crews from Massingham, Fakenham and Lynn were drafted in to assist at the height of the blaze.

Neighbour Desmond Minns said he had got up at about 6.30am to let the family's dogs out and there was no sign of anything untoward. He was planning to go back to bed when he saw the flashing lights of the fire engines and realised the old chapel – where he and his wife Judith had lived when they were first married more than 30 years ago – was ablaze.

The 61-year-old builder and lifelong Sedgeford villager added: 'It was a vicious fire. It didn't seem to take long at all to become a really big fire.'

A statement from Norfolk police said: 'Further inquiries carried out today by police and the fire service at the property have found there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire. The seal at the property has now been lifted and a file is being prepared for the coroner.'

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