House in Cornwall destroyed by explosion

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The Independent Online

Firefighters have said that only good fortune prevented people from being killed when an explosion tore through a house last night, blowing the roof and the front off the building.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a 49-year-old man from Truro was arrested on suspicion of arson shortly after the incident and is in police custody.

The house in Bodmin, Cornwall, was vacant and had little furniture in it when it blew up at around 8.45pm last night. It was the only detached property in a street of semi-detached homes in a quiet residential area.

One neighbour said she heard two separate "booms" and rushed outside to see the house in Margaret Crescent badly damaged and ablaze.

One elderly neighbour, Colin Pearce, had to be dragged from his bed by other street residents who feared the flames could spread to his home, just feet from the burning building, after he slept through the explosion.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service's Bodmin station manager Lee Griffin, who was in charge of the 24 firefighters who tackled the blaze, said it was "amazing" no-one had been injured.

"The front first floor wall of the building was in the front garden. Smoke was coming from every orifice of the building," he said, adding that the house was empty and had little furniture in it at the time.

At its peak three fire crews, two from Bodmin and one from nearby Lostwithiel, tackled the fire, the cause of which is still being investigated. The destroyed house was reportedly on the market at the time the explosion happened.

This morning, other people living on the quiet residential street close to the town centre were helping to clear the road outside the building of glass that had shattered and been blown there by the force of the blast.

One resident, who only gave her name as Pam, said: "We were watching TV and we heard this boom. Then there was a second boom and an almighty crash. It was very loud.

"I came rushing out of the front door and a neighbour shouted that he had called the fire brigade."

She told how one of her neighbours had run into Mr Pearce's house, fearing that the flames would spread across the short gap separating the flaming house from his semi-detached property.

Mr Pearce admitted he had slept through the explosion.

"I was asleep at the time, I had had a long day and went to bed at 7pm," he said.

He spent the night at his son's home after Cornwall Fire and Rescue cordoned off neighbouring properties as they fought to bring the fire under control. But he was back this morning, amongst those helping clear the street of debris.

People living in neighbouring houses told the BBC they suffered a power cut shortly before the explosion destroyed the house.

The fire service said Western Power engineers had been at the scene following the explosion, digging up a footpath in order to isolate the electrics to the property. Gas engineers were also at the scene this morning.