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‘Aunt Fiona, I think the beach hut’s on fire’: Owner of burnt Bournemouth chalet tells of horror

The owner of a Bournemouth beach hut which caught fire and sparked a huge blaze on cliffs over the sands has revealed her horror to the MailOnline.

Fiona Tew had just put the kettle on the gas stove for her nephew on Monday afternoon and was walking back after fetching some more water from the taps.

‘Auntie Fiona, I think the beach hut is on fire,’ 14-year-old Jamie shouted as she arrived back.

Ms Tew said: ‘I looked up and saw the smoke and ran back as fast as I could. We tried to get as much stuff as we could out of there but we didn’t have enough time to get anything.’  

The fire soon spread to two adjacent huts and thousands packed on the sands in the glorious weather were told to evacuate over fears that gas canisters used for cooking could explode.

A southerly breeze swept the blaze onto the tinder-dry gorse behind the huts along the promenade and the fire tore a 100ft tract of destruction up the cliff.

Eight fire crews raced to the scene at around 3.50pm and were able to bring the inferno under control and there were no reports of any injuries.  

Ms Tew had been at the beach hut with her sister-in-law Lainey Norman, 39, and five children when her nephew rushed in saying he had been stung by a fish.

The mother-of-two put the kettle on using their gas stove and left Jamie in the beach hut to get some more water to pour over his skin.

Revealing how the fire started, Ms Tew’s mother-in-law Marilyn Tew told MailOnline: ‘Inside the beach hut there is a small gas stove. Someone put the kettle.

‘The next thing they knew someone shouted, ”The hut’s on fire!” They turned round and could see flames leaping from the beach hut. It all happened so quickly.’

Fiona Tew said: ‘Our nephew was with his friends and came over saying he’d been stung by a weaver fish and asking if he could get some hot water from our beach hut.

‘I filled up the kettle, put it on the hob and told him to wait while I went to get some cold water from one of the taps. I was walking back and all of a sudden he was in front of me saying “Auntie Fiona, I think the beach hut is on fire.”

‘With that I looked up and saw the smoke and ran back as fast as I could. We tried to get as much stuff as we could out of there but we didn’t have enough time to get anything.’

She added: ‘It was just horrible. The kids were really upset, this is our favourite place to be and I’m just so glad nobody was hurt. The stuff can be replaced but there’s things that had a sentimental value to them.

‘We’ve had this beach hut for about eight years and it’s like a little community so everyone was looking out for the kids. It was horrible for the kids who just had to stand there and watch.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it – it just went up in seconds. The cliff face will take years to grow back and will be a constant reminder of what happened.’

Marilyn, from Bournemouth, Dorset, said Fiona’s husband Gavin, a personal trainer who keeps weights in the hut and runs fitness classes on the beach, missed the family day out to play golf.

Gavin had been at the beach this morning picking through the charred timber remains of what is left of their family beach hut.

The 42-year-old said: ‘Anita, who owns the hut two down, had her late husband’s watch in hers so she was really upset and crying. Thankfully Fiona found it and was able to give it back to her.

‘She rang me and said there was a fire and I just told her to put it out. When I saw the video footage on social media I realised that she couldn’t just put it out.

‘I use the hut for work so for the time being I’ll have to train people away from the beach. We just really hope that the other people’s huts have got insurance because we didn’t.’

When his wife rang him he raced to the scene, where he also found his two children Teddy, four, and Ruby, who is just 21-months-old. The couple did not have insurance and are now facing a £2,000 bill to replace their hut.

Marilyn said the rest of the family, who were on the sand when it happened, could only watch in horror as the flames took hold and leapt up the tinder dry gorse bank.

‘Our family has had a beach hut for many years. We had one and my parents had one. It is quite devastating. One of my grandchildren was standing on the beach when someone saw smoke and told him the hut was on fire.

‘There was no time to get anything. All of their possessions have been destroyed. My daughter Lainey has had to go round to opticians to get new glasses for the children as they were destroyed.            

‘My son Gavin kept his fitness equipment inside the hut and they are all ruined. The hut was not insured.’

Marilyn added Fiona and her daughter were ‘badly shaken up’ by what had happened, but grateful that no one was seriously hurt.

She praised the 40 firefighters who tackled the blaze and prevented it spreading along the row huts. ‘Our family use the hut almost every day. We are there all the time.’ Among those closest to the blaze was Jonty Hughes.

Terrifying footage shot by other beachgoers showed red flames spewing up from Bournemouth beach over a cliff and up to the road above. 

In the video taken close to the evacuated Highcliff Marriott hotel, a car could be seen hastily reversing away from the roadside where thick smoke and huge flames were thrown up by the sea breeze on Monday afternoon.         

Sunbathers had earlier fled in terror after a man rushed out of one of the rented huts along the beach and shouted for people to get back because he feared a gas canister inside could explode.

The fire spread to two adjacent huts and the southerly breeze soon fanned its flames onto the tinder-dry gorse behind, through which a 100ft tract of destruction was torn.

Eight fire crews raced to scene at 3.50pm and put out the fire in the beach huts and set about tackling the fire raging through the dense vegetation on the cliff.

The blaze on the cliff was eventually brought under control by 7pm and South Western Ambulance Service said there were no reports of any injuries.

The beach had been packed with thousands of sunbathers soaking up the 23C sunny weather when the fire broke out.

Fitness instructor Gavin was not at the beach but playing golf. Mr Hughes, 22, from Bournemouth, said: ‘I was about 60ft from it when the fire first started – just inside one beach hut.        

‘A guy came running out shouting for people to get back as there was a small gas canister down the side of his beach hut.

‘He kept shouting for people to get out of the way and when it did reach the gas there were loads of pops, which sounded almost like aerosols.

‘The wind pushed the flames up the cliff face and the fire just rose all the way up from there. It was unbelievable.’

Tracey Steadman, a district nurse from Derbyshire, is on holiday in Bournemouth with her three children, who are aged 18, 14 and 13. She said there was no sudden explosion but that she heard several pops once the fire was underway.

Mrs Steadman, 48, said: ‘I didn’t hear a bang or anything like that. I just turned around and saw a huge plume of smoke.

‘There were flames erupting from one hut and people were forced to leave their possessions on the beach to get away safely.

‘There was no time to pack up things like wind-breaks, people just had to abandon them on the sand. I saw a few of the other huts catch fire and the wind blew the flames onto the hill which went up so quickly.

‘Thankfully we were about 160ft away but the fire was absolutely huge. The police arrived within minutes but unfortunately the fire brigade were slightly behind them so by the time they got there, the hill was already in flames.

‘Firefighters had to climb onto the hill to try and put it out and after that there was just a huge amount of smoke.’

Dorset and Wiltshire Rescue fire officer Andy Cole said: ‘The fire started in one of the beach huts accidentally. It spread to another beach hut and because the cliff face is so close to the beach huts went up the hill.

‘The first fire engine on the scene saw it had spread and requested assistance and there were eight fire engines in total.’

He added: ‘It is challenging to tackle these types of fires and an area of 100sq metres was destroyed. There were no injuries.’

Police evacuated a section of the beach and put in a cordon to protect the thousands of beachgoers from the blaze.

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: ‘We were called at 3.53pm yesterday to reports of a beach hut fire near to the West Cliff lift on Bournemouth’s West Cliff. The fire spread to nearby beach huts and moved up the cliff.

‘A cordon was put in place for the safety of members of the public and officers attended the scene to assist with the closures.’ 

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