WHILE the rest of the district celebrated the New Year, fire crews fought to tackle a Grosmont house blaze which one firefighter described as the worst he had seen in years.
Now, the family whose house was ravaged by the blaze have thanked the firefighters who battled throughout the night to save their home.
“They were incredible,” said James Godbold, whose property is on Front Street in the village. “They did what they had to do most effectively. They saved what they could.”
The family had been celebrating the New Year at a nearby public house, but Mrs Godbold and her daughter had returned home at around 8.30pm and realised their home was burning when they heard the smoke alarm and saw smoke billowing out of the chimneys.
Mrs Godbold - who had celebrated her 50th birthday just days before - called the emergency services for assistance. At that time the flames were confined to a wardrobe within the main bedroom. However, by the time the fire teams arrived, it had spread to the rest of the room, eventually causing around 85% fire and smoke damage.
As the clock struck midnight to signal the new year, crews from Goathland, Whitby and Lythe were tackling the fire. “It sort of passed unnoticed that it was 12 o’clock,” said Whitby watch manager Chris Watson. “There was a quick ‘Happy New Year’ to everybody and we got back to work.”
The crews had been on the scene since 9pm but had no time for festivities as firefighters Dan Watson and Darrin Wright were within the house, attempting to reach the burning bedroom.
“It was so hot they couldn’t get through the door,” said WM Watson, who explained that trapped fire raised fears among the crew of a ‘backdraft’ scenario.
This occurs when a fire is poorly ventilated and so the fire is starved of oxygen and suppressed by the dense smoke it creates. If a door is opened the fire bursts into life, creating a huge explosion that can seriously injure any firefighter who gets in the way. The only solution was to shatter the rear window to the bedroom, allowing air to enter that way.
Although this fuelled the fire, there was no alternative if the crew hoped to extinguish the blaze.
The teams remained on the scene until 3am, when the blaze was completely extinguished, allowing the full scale of the damage to be realised.
“There was a cupboard in there untouched, but everything else was totally ravaged,” explained WM Watson. He added that although the bathroom and another bedroom had also suffered smoke damage, the rest of the home was saved as windows and internal doors had been closed. “We always encourage people to shut doors because they keep fire, smoke, heat and soot back,” he said.
An investigation into the cause of the fire discovered that, unbeknownst to Mr Godbold and his family, a portion of the chimney flue had been removed before his family moved into the home, 15 years ago.
A tin sheet had been placed over the hole, where an old fireplace once sat, and it had been replastered to match the rest of the wall, masking the lack of effective heat insulation. It had then later been hidden behind a fitted wardrobe when the family redecorated the room.
“There has never been an inkling,” said Mr Godbold, who owns Godbold Blacksmiths in Egton. “Even on the night the fire started, just before I had taken a shirt out of the wardrobe.”
Eventually, repeated use of the fire dried out the area around the hole and on New Year’s Eve the wardrobe reached a critical temperature and burst into flames.
“It was really unventilated so it was not like a glowing candle from a mile away, it was really tightly packed in,” said WM Watson. “There were six chimney pots and all the smoke was absolutely billowing out of there.
“If it had been burning for a couple of hours the situation would have been a lot worse. Her coming back when they did stopped it getting worse. They could have gone out for the night, like a lot of people did New Year’s Eve and not come home.”
A spokesperson for North Yorkshire fire service sought to remind householders that alterations should only be carried out be a Heatas Registered installer. Heatas is the official body for solid fuel heating appliances and can give advice on the condition of existing chimney breasts and fireplaces.