By MARK TWEEDIE
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Norfolk firefighters who battled successfully to save a historic watermill from destruction earned praise this evening from senior officers.
Some 50 crew members drawn from a wide area of the county were sent to the isolated Eade’s Mill complex of buildings close to the boundary between Great Witchingham and Whitwell this afternoon.
At the scene, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service group manager Richard Herrell said the blaze was very severe and could easily have engulfed the properties but for the skill of the crewmen, especially the first ones there.
He added: “I’m not just saying this because they are our lads, but they did a magnificent job in very difficult circumstances.
“When you get a fire of this severity in a property such as this, you need a very high degree of skill to stop it spreading very, very quickly.
“What they have done is avoided the total loss of the structure.”
The alarm was raised at about 1.40pm at Eade’s Mill House, one of two adjoining homes overlooking the old mill pond on a tributary of the River Wensum.
Fire service watch manager David Peacock said the first crews to arrive - from Dereham and Earlham, in Norwich - found a ground-floor workshop area attached to the main house well alight. Three people who had been at the house were safely outside by the time the firefighters had got there.
He added: “It was a very difficult fire to fight because of the traditional structure and because it has got a lot of hidden voids.
“It could have taken the whole of the house; it could have taken the adjoining properties. I would say the majority of the building has been saved from major fire damage.
“Because of its rural location, the Dereham and Earlham crews had an awful lot to do to contain it. They had to work really hard to fight, and to contain, it before we could get in further resources.”
Other crews were drafted in from Sprowston and Carrow in the city, Reepham, Watton and Fakenham.
Some of the firefighters were expected to remain at the scene well into the evening, painstakingly taking down the roof tiles from the worst-affected part of Eade’s Mill House and removing bitumen to make sure the fire was completely out.
Mr Herrell said: “It is a laborious task but it has got to be done.”
One of the people who was at the house when the fire broke out was treated at the scene by the East of England Ambulance Service for the effects of breathing in smoke.
The householders were being comforted by neighbours and were too distressed to comment.
An investigation into the cause was under way, said Mr Peacock.
The Eade’s Mill complex is thought to date from about 1666 and is mentioned in the celebrated 18th-century diaries of Parson Woodforde, of Weston Longville.
In the mid-19th century, the then corn miller in charge is said to have employed 15 men and boys. After the second world war it was converted from water power to electricity, but by 1992 if was reported to be semi-derelict. Since then it has been renovated and lived in for several years.