Investigators say massive fire was an accident

The devastating cottage blaze
The devastating cottage blaze

A blaze which destroyed a thatched cottage and home to a mini zoo on the A22 at Polegate on Wednesday night was accidental.

Fire investigators were at The Thatched Cottage on Hailsham Road on Thursday morning and said their probe had concluded and the fire, which saw 300 pets rescued, had possibly been caused by a spark igniting the thatched roof.

The owners of the cottage operate Animal Magic, a mini travelling zoo which takes small animals, birds and insects to venues for children.

Passing motorists called the emergency services after seeing flames coming from the cottage, on the southbound stretch of the A22 close to Cophall roundabout, during rush hour traffic at 6.21pm on Wednesday. The cottage sits on a slip road by Eastbourne Calor Gas and the popular Indian restaurant K2.

One of the first on the scene was K2’s owner Joy Hoque, who ran in to the cottage with one of his customers and helped rescue the animals.

He said, “We went inside the cottage as the fire was in a chimney at the back of the property. We managed to get some of the animals out and then the fire brigade arrived. There were some very high flames and a lot of smoke.”

The road was closed and local homes evacuated because of the cottage’s close proximity to Eastbourne Calor Gas, where a driver had just delivered gas canisters.

Fire incident commander Mark Rist told the Herald eight fire appliances from Hailsham, Eastbourne, Forest Row, Uckfield, Herstmonceux, Seaford, Bexhill, Heathfield and Lewes were at the scene with relief crews working through the night.

He said, “While the cottage roof was lost, no one was injured and the hard work of the crews prevented the fire spreading to a range of buildings close to the fire which house in excess of 300 animals and birds. They also stopped the fire spreading to the adjacent bottle gas distribution site. We used the water carrier and appliances for a water shuttle from Polegate.”

A statement on Animal Magic’s website said its computer and diary was lost in the blaze but hoped to honour all bookings made. It also urged people who had made bookings for 2015 to contact them.