Fire commander speaks of battle to save Ewell Court House as flames leapt 20ft into the sky

This Is Local London: Firefighters at the wrecked historic mansion, Ewell Court House, yesterday Firefighters at the wrecked historic mansion, Ewell Court House, yesterday

The man in charge of fighting yesterday's massive fire at a historic house in Ewell has spoken about the battle to save the building as flames leapt 20ft into the sky.

Incident commander Mark Barrett, from Epsom fire station, said they arrived just before 3am to find huge flames leaping from the roof of Ewell Court House.

Five people were evacuated from residential apartments at the back of Ewell Court House, and the firefighters managed to stop the fire consuming their homes.

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The team of 50 firefighters, from stations across the area, pumped water from the lake in the grounds of the Grade II listed building to contain the blaze to the roof, where the fire started, and the first floor.

Mr Barrett said: "We initially sent four appliances and that went up to 10 at its height. We had a total of 20 firefighters in breathing apparatus.

"The main hardship for the crews was not the heat and the smoke but the layout. It had a very complicated layout and access was very difficult."

He said they used an aerial ladder platform and firefighters in breathing apparatus entered the house through doors on the ground floor and windows on the first floor.

He said: "We managed to get up in the roof space. It was very good work by the crews to contain it when we did. Our main worry was it spreading through the roof."

Mr Barrett said they managed to contain the fire in the roof space and the first floor of the building, consisting of training and function rooms.

But they stopped it spreading to the library.

He said: "We removed the railing and used the lake as a water supply. The roof fire took a lot of water and the lake was in the ideal position."

A mobile data system on the fire engines allowed firemen to study the layout of the building and its electrical points.

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Of the original building, which makes up part of Ewell Court House, Mr Barrett said up to 90 percent of the roof was destroyed and about half the first floor was destroyed.

Mr Barrett thinks that one of the gable ends and two chimneys may now have to be removed to make the building safe.

He said: "It started up in the roof but as yet the cause is undetermined. We do not suspect foul play, not by the nature of where it started."

Mr Barrett, who is proud of the firefighters, said: "The plan we put into action was successful and it was a good intervention. It was a bit of aggressive fighting that did its job."

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Mark Stewart, who started out as incident commander before Mr Barrett took over, said he was going down to the scene to close down the operation last night.

Mr Stewart said: "All the guys are trained. It's like putting the cogs into gear and everyone fulfils their roles and gets on with it.

"Having two fire engines at Epsom makes such a difference rather than just turning up with one fire engine."

In March councillors approved plans to relocate one of the borough’s fire engines to a new fire station at Burgh Heath.

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Leatherhead firefighter Jay Devey, who operated the pumps on a fire engine, said they were the fifth crew to arrive, shortly after 3pm, to find firefighters tackling the fire from the outside.

Mr Devey said: "Firefighters were willing and determined to get the fire under control and save as much as we could. We got the fire under control quite quickly really."

He said it took between three and four hours to put out the fire but damping down the scene continued into the morning when relief crews took over.

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