Brothers homeless after house fire

THREE brothers have spoken of their devastation after being left homeless because their house was destroyed by fire.

Elliot Furniss

THREE brothers have spoken of their devastation after being left homeless because their house was destroyed by fire.

The blaze broke out at the mid-terrace property in Defoe Crescent, Colchester, on Saturday evening while two of the siblings, Mark and Tom Gatehouse, were out shopping.

Their brother Joe was at a relative's house in the same road where he has been staying due to poor health.

As Mark, 51, and Tom, 47, made their way home at about 6pm they could see the smoke spiralling above the houses, and after arriving in the street they discovered it was coming from their home.

The blaze gutted the two-storey building, with only fire walls preventing it spreading into neighbours' houses and causing more damage.

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Mark said it had been a devastating experience to see his home go up in flames.

“We lived there for 12 years,” he said. “Thank God there wasn't anybody in there.

“We still don't know what happened. We just went out to Asda and came back. As we got closer we thought 'it looks like our house' and it was.

“They wouldn't let me go anywhere near it - they were frightened the gas might explode. It just shocked me.”

Tom said he and his brothers were just “counting themselves lucky” that the blaze had not occurred in the middle of the night as they slept.

Joe, 57, is recovering from a heart attack and has an enlarged heart and uses an oxygen supply.

He said that he could have been “finished” if he had been at home when the flames and smoke took hold.

The fire was tackled by crews from Colchester, Wivenhoe and Manningtree and neighbours said the flames had been at their most fierce at the rear of the house.

One local resident, Simon Degville, 32, said he had welcomed the people living directly next door to the affected house into his home and given them cups of tea.

He said: “We know the woman who lives next door and she's got little kids and we got her in and gave them a cup of tea and got on the phone to the council.

“We were checking our loft and there was a bit of smoke coming through but there was nothing major. The back of the house was well alight.

“We have got big conifer trees that go down the length of the garden and we thought 'are they going to go up as well?' It's a real shame.”

An Essex County Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said the Red Cross had been contacted to help provide care and shelter for those affected by the fire, which damaged the properties on either side of the house.

He said: “On arrival the property was 100% alight. Crews started tackling the fire on two fronts using three hose reel jets and one main jet wearing four sets of breathing apparatus.

“Initially crews could not account for all of the occupants but they have since discovered that no one was trapped or missing in the fire.”

He said the intensity of the blaze caused the roof and first floor to collapse but the flames were out by about 8pm.

Firefighters stayed at the scene for about an hour to damp down the area and returned during the night to ensure that no hot spots had reignited.

Yesterday a joint fire and police investigation into the cause of the blaze was launched.

n Later in the evening, crews tackled another blaze in the town, this time at a flat in Albany Gardens.

The fire began at about 11.05pm at a first floor flat and two Colchester crews went to the scene, using breathing apparatus and a hose reel jet to tackle the flames. The fire was out after about half an hour and nobody was hurt.

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