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Castle fire heroes praised.

Byline: Brian Daniel Northumberland reporter brian.daniel@ncjmedia.co.uk

THE owner of an historic North castle hit by fire has praised staff for their "heroic" actions which saved his home from damage.

Fire crews were called to Chillingham Castle, near Wooler in Northumberland, on Saturday night after a blaze in a chimney.

The castle's owner Sir Humphry Wake-field, who was away from home, has now spoken of his gratitude to his staff who discovered and put out the fire, and evacuated guests staying in the site's apartments and those taking part in one of its famed ghost tours.

Caretaker at the castle David Mills, 51, was in his apartment with partner Iona at around 9.30pm when the couple heard a loud rumbling noise.

The property's fire alarm sounded. Graham Burnie, who was leading the ghost tour at the time, saw flames which appeared to be coming from the roof and rushed to Mr Mills' apartment.

The men went up one of the castle's towers to locate the fire. Around the same time, Iona went round the site's apartments and told guests to evacuate.

The fire brigade was called.

Mr Mills, who has been in post a year and a half, said: "My heart was in my mouth when I came and looked at the roof - it looked like the roof was on fire."

Fortunately, the men realised the roof was not alight, with the flames coming from a chimney from the castle's Minstrel's Hall, used as a visitors' tea room. A fire had been lit at the foot of the chimney for a vigil which forms part of the ghost tour.

The men went into the hall and used extinguishers to tackle the blaze, before returning with buckets of water with which they put the fire out.

Northumbria Police and crews from Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service arrived, with the latter putting a hose down the chimney to ensure the blaze had been extinguished.

Crews left at around 11.30pm with Mr Mills checking during the night to ensure the fire had not reignited.

No damage was caused to the property which Sir Humphry, who lives in the castle with wife Lady Katharine, believes is down to the actions of his staff and the emergency services.

The 78-year-old second baronet, who was away for a sporting weekend in Shropshire his wife, said the heat in the stone walls of the chimney, caused by the fire, could have led to adjoining timber igniting had the flames not been tackled so quickly.

"There would have been a great chance of the fire spreading."

He added: "David and Graham were the heroes of the day really. They addressed the situation calmly and firmly. Saved the day really.

"I was unaware of it all happening and was told everything was under control.

"I was incredibly proud of the competence of David and Graham and the fire brigade."

Staff were also praised by the fire crews and a policeman who was staying in one of the castle's apartments.

A modest Mr Mills, a former coal miner, said: "At the end of the day nobody was hurt, that is the good thing."

Sir Humphry believes the blaze will have been caused by the burning of pine logs on the fire, with residue from the tree said to stick to the chimney walls and be susceptible to igniting.

"We clean the chimneys once a year, this chimney needs cleaning twice a year."

The castle's owner stressed it is business as usual after the fire. "The chimney has been re-swept," he said. "You would not know. There is a bit of a smell."

The incident was not the first time the castle has been hit by fire, with a blaze destroying its North wing during the Second World War in 1943 while Canadian soldiers were staying.

CAPTION(S):

David Mills, <B Estates Manager at Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, where there was a chimney fire.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 13, 2015
Words:658
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