Fire investigators believe that a blaze which severely damaged a semi-detached house in Gaywood on Friday may have been electrical in origin.
Forty-five firefighters in seven appliances from across Norfolk were sent to the fire at Elvington, on the Springwood Estate, shortly after 7pm that night after neighbours saw smoke coming from the house and raised the alarm.
Incident commander Simon Mason, a station manager from Lynn, said initially it was not clear if the occupant, a single woman, was in the house.
But as firefighters in breathing apparatus prepared to go into the building, a concerned neighbour contacted her by phone and established that she was at work in the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hospital and unaware of the drama unfolding at her home.
Sisters Ady Barney and Roz Newton, who live next door, were leaving home at 6.50pm to go and see the Hairy Bikers at Lynn Corn Exchange when they became aware of the blaze.
Mrs Barney said: “As we walked out I said,’Someone has got a bonfire with all this smoke. It’s coming from the back, I think it’s in the garden’, and Roz went to have a look.”
Miss Newton said: “ There was a loud bang – like an explosion – as the rear first floor bedroom window blew out next door and there were flames coming out.”
The sisters rang 999 then phoned the hospital to see if their neighbour was at work. Mrs Barney said it would have been “absolute panic” if she had not been there.
They said the neighbour returned home to find the fire crews there and was more worried about her guinea pigs in the house than the damage being caused by the blaze, and fortunately her pets were safely rescued by the firefighters.
Mrs Barney said their neighbour was “remarkably calm” about the situation and “taking it very well” in the circumstances.
Mr Mason said the blaze had spread into the roof space so six firefighters wearing breathing apparatus went into the house to bring it under control while others evacuated the occupants of the adjoining semi-detached house in case it spread through the loft space.
Water was pumped from nearby hydrants and the aerial ladder platform was used to get to the roof, where tiles were removed to allow the smoke to ventilate from the property and ensure there were no hidden seats of fire.
He said it was believed the fire had started in the rear bedroom on the first floor and it was important that people checked their smoke alarms weekly as one in the house had not been sounding.
Yesterday, a Norfolk Fire Service spokesman said an external investigation of the house had been carried out by its fire investigators because of the extent of the damage, and they had also spoken to neighbours. “At this stage we believe the cause to be electrical,” he said.
The occupant is believed to be staying with a relative in the Lynn area as a temporary measure.