Oxfordshire fires: Man arrested as three 'major' blazes reported in space of 10 minutes across county

Incidents include council buildings, as police open arson investigation

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The Independent Online

A man has been arrested on suspicion of arson after police and firefighters were called to three "major" fires across Oxfordshire in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The targets for the alleged attacks included council buildings, a nearby funeral home and a thatched house a short drive away.

Emergency services said that up to 27 crews dealt with three separate blazes across a small strip of the countryside between Benson and Crowmarsh Gifford, near Wallingford.

Police said a vehicle had been driven into the council building prior to the attack, and that gas cannisters were found at the scene of all three fires.

In a statement, Thames Valley Police said that a 47-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the fires, which were all reported within 10 minutes of one another. The South Oxfordshire and Vale of White House district councils have been forced to set up a temporary website after the “major fire” affected their online networks.

“Most services will be affected,” the councils said in a statement. “[We] are putting a business continuity plan into place to make sure the effect on the most important front line services is kept to a minimum.”

Alistair Cox, 43, the co-owner of the funeral parlour, said his father lived next door and was woken by the blaze. He saw a vehicle driving off towards the council building 30m away, Mr Cox said.

"We were on the scene quickly and tackled it with fire extinguishers before the fire brigade put it out," he said. "It looks like about half the parlour has smoke or fire damage.

"Thankfully we have insurance and it hasn't affected the funerals we have on today."

Mr Cox said there were "lots" of bodies kept at the parlour at the time, but that they were safely kept at the rear of the property in what he called a "fire-sealed room".

Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said the first fire was reported at a thatched house in Roke Marsh at 3.11am. At 3.20am, four crews were called to the funeral parlour in Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford.

And also at 3.20am, a third blaze was reported at the district council offices in the same road as the funeral parlour.

oxfordshire-fire-3.jpgDavid Etheridge, chief fire officer for the service, said the fires all “occurred within a very short timeframe”.

Superintendent Andy Boyd of Thames Valley Police said: "Gas canisters have been found at the location of all three of the fires.

"There were gas canisters in the vicinity of the car."

A Thames Valley Police statement read: "At this stage the police investigation is focusing on all three fires being linked and are believed to be suspicious.

"It is believed that a vehicle collided with the South Oxfordshire District Council building prior to the fire.

"There are cordons in place at all three locations and residents and motorists are asked to avoid these areas. Nobody has been reported injured at this time as a result of these fires."