Bideford hotel fire: Man arrested

Joseph Bulmer

Suspect in custody at Barnstaple police station

A MAN has been arrested on suspicion of arson following a major fire at a Bideford hotel.

Four people were rescued by fire fighters from the roof of Tantons Hotel when fire broke out early this morning (Tuesday).

Witnesses heard cries for help and saw flames coming from the prominent building on the town’s riverside.

Sixty fire fighters from around the area rushed to the hotel to tackle the blaze, which broke out on the third floor of the Grade II listed 18th century hotel.

Fifty-four people were evacuated and taken to the Royal Hotel on the other side of the old Bideford Bridge, many of them elderly and still in their night clothes.

Across the river at Ethelwynne Brown Close, eye witnesses Sharon Knox and 12-year-old son Connor Wells were awoken by the increasingly desperate cries of those trapped on the roof.

“At first we thought it was ducks on the river but then we heard people shouting ‘help, help’, so we dialled 999,” said Sharon.

“I asked for the coastguard because I thought someone had fallen in the river but then Sam got the binoculars out and said ‘mum, the hotel’s on fire’.

“The smoke was billowing over and we could see the flames on the roof.”

At around the same time, night duty officers next door at Bideford Police Station also heard the screams for help.

“Three officers forced entry into the hotel and raised the alarm,” said Inspector Ian Dawson.

“They effected the evacuation of the whole premises; the officers who turned up this morning saved lives without a doubt.”

At 4.04am, two pumps from Bideford arrived on scene to discover a “raging fire” and people clambering onto the roof of the hotel.

By 4.13am, a further four fire engines were scrambled as rescuers used ladders to reach those trapped on the roof. Two more pumps and an aerial appliance from Barnstaple were called for soon after.

At 5am fire crews were wearing breathing apparatus and four hose reels plus an aerial ladder were in use.

At 6.15am two hose reels were in use and the crews confirmed that everyone had been accounted for.

As the Gazette spoke to Bideford station manager Graham Rooke at 7.20am, crews were still dealing with small pockets of fire and using the hydraulic platform to remove roof tiles and access the roof space.

“There is substantial damage to the third floor and the second floor and roof space have been affected by smoke and heat,” said Mr Rooke.

“The cause of the fire is unknown at this time and an investigation is under way.

“At the height of the fire there were 60 fire fighters on scene and I would like to commend the crews for their initial actions working in very arduous conditions.

“This was a multi-agency approach and I would also like to thank police, ambulance crews and hotel management for their assistance in affecting the rescue of all 55 persons.”

Police arrested a 58-year-old man at the scene on suspicion of arson and he is currently in custody at Barnstaple Custody Centre. It is unclear whether the suspect was a guest at the hotel.

The A386 New Road alongside the hotel is likely to be closed for much of the day as fire crews continue damping down and a crime scene investigation gets under way.

Some hotel guests who lost their belongings have since been re-clothed at the Rotary shop in Boutport Street, Barnstaple.

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