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Fire raced through a 50 metre barn at a farm near Haverhill in '20 minutes', causing half a million pounds worth of damage




A farm owner has described the 'devastation' caused by a fire that ravaged a 200-year-old barn, resulting in an estimated £500,000 worth of damage.

The barn at Great Wilsey Farm, in Little Wratting, just outside Haverhill, was destroyed by the fire that broke out at about 4.30pm last Friday.

More than a dozen fire appliances were mobilised from across the region and firefighters spent more than 12 hours at the scene, even revisiting it three times over the weekend to extinguish small fires that had reignited.

Jo Pelly, whose late husband Stewart brought the farm in December 1959, described how one of her staff, Garry Lester, raised the alarm after seeing smoke coming from a cart lodge that backs on to the barn.

He also earned her praise for saving the lives of the animals that were housed in part of the barn and for attempting to move some of the machinery.

Mrs Pelly, 87, said: "He went to have a look, taking the fire extinguisher with him and when he got there it was already far too far along, so he dialled 999 at 4.33pm and it very quickly rose to a billowing grey and black cloud and the fire caught the big barn which the shed backs on to.

The fire ravaged barn at Great Wilsey Farm. Picture by Steve Barton
The fire ravaged barn at Great Wilsey Farm. Picture by Steve Barton

"It very quickly went from one end of that barn to the other.

"We just stood and watched it and we knew there was nothing we could do and we didn't think the fire service could do anything and it went from one end to the other in 20 minutes and it's a 50-metre barn."

Mrs Pelly said the fire service pumped water from a nearby ancient moat to try and extinguish the flames on the u-shaped building, lowering the water levels of the spring-fed moat by some two feet.

It was a rainy day on Friday, and although the cause of the fire has not been established, Mrs Pelly believes it could have been started inadvertently by a walker using the public footpath that runs next to the barn and connects Haverhill to Kedington.

The fire in motion at the barn. Picture by Tyler Bell
The fire in motion at the barn. Picture by Tyler Bell

They could, theorised Mrs Pelly, have taken shelter in the cart lodge and had a cigarette, which then started the fire.

She added: "Nobody could say what started it and because the devastation is so complete they will never know."

Mrs Pelly did add that the fire investigation officers found no evidence of accelerants being used, so likes to think it is not a case of arson.

The flames engulfing the 200-year-old barn at Great Wilsey Farm. Picture by Tyler Bell
The flames engulfing the 200-year-old barn at Great Wilsey Farm. Picture by Tyler Bell

The police are investigating the fire and it is they who have estimated the damage caused to be about £500,000.

Mrs Pelly praised the fire service, saying: "I think they did a fabulous job without much hope.

The aftermath of the fire. Picture by Steve Barton
The aftermath of the fire. Picture by Steve Barton

"We asked them to save a particular part of the building, which they did."

Mrs Pelly has also, she added, been thinking of the many people over the years that have worked in the barn, something that has been happening for over 200 years.

The two-storey barn, which was once used to host parties on the first floor and which had been renovated at a cost of £45,000 this year, contained a lot of machinery that was destroyed, including a variety of mowing machines, a shredder, a sweeper, sprayers and hand held equipment, as well as at least three cars.

"The buildings were properly insured but we don't yet know what will happen about the contents and we have no idea what we will do with the site because we don't need a barn like that so we might rebuild but we will never rebuild with two floors," said Mrs Pelly.

"Everybody has taken it very well but it is exhausting trying to remember what was in there and what has actually gone."

The weather conditions on the day of the fire also helped to prevent the consequences from being even worse, said Mrs Pelly, as the flames and smoke were taken away from any housing, including her own home.

"The wind was coming from the north west and the flames actually travelled from east to west and the smoke, which was extremely thick, went down to Little Wilsey (an area of open farmland).

"The smoke was so thick that the trees kept disappearing from sight completely.

"We were very lucky, well, the public were, that the smoke actually went over land and not over houses."

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