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Police investigation after Rita Brown, 89, killed in unexplained house fire
An 89-year-old woman has died after a fire engulfed the farmhouse she had called home for 70 years.
The victim, named locally as Rita Brown, was at home in Mill Farmhouse, near the historic Barcombe Mill, when the blaze broke out shortly after 6am on Saturday.
It took over both floors and the roof of her home and at its height was tackled by 25 firefighters.
The landlord of the nearby Anchor pub in Barcombe Mills Road, Barcombe, north of Lewes, raised the alarm after seeing smoke in the distance.
Mrs Brown was pulled from her home by firefighters who gave her first aid and CPR. But she was declared dead at the scene.
No one else was in the house when the fire broke out which Sussex Police detectives said was being treated at “unexplained”.
They refused to be drawn on whether the blaze was being treated as suspicious. The area remained cordoned off all weekend with police officers preventing people from approaching Mrs Brown’s home which is on the banks of the River Ouse.
Scenes of crime officers surrounded the two-storey home, which is unstable as a consequence of the blaze.
Yesterday Mrs Brown’s family, including her great-grandson, were too upset to speak. However, they told The Argus she had lived in the house since she was a teenager.
The two-storey white brick home – set miles off of the road up a private track – was completely gutted in the blaze.
A woman living in Barcombe Mills Road said on Saturday: “There have been firefighters and police coming and going all day including forensic officers.”
Another woman said: “I heard the people in the Anchor pub saw smoke and called for help.”
A Sussex Police statement said: “Officers were called to the home at Mill Farm by firefighters at the scene of the fire.
“Fire crews had been called after a member of the public reported seeing the building on fire.
“Firefighters forced their way into the building and rescued a woman but she died later.
“The cause of the fire is not yet known. The incident is being investigated by police and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.”
Detective Inspector Mark O'Brien said: “This is a tragic incident and the victim's family are being supported by police and the coroner's officer.
“At this stage we are treating the cause of the fire as unexplained and we remain open minded as to how it may have started.
“Building inspectors had decided that the home was currently not safe to go inside due to structural integrity.
“A forensic team working alongside fire investigators are currently examining the property.
“We expect to be at the property for the next couple of days while we assess the scene and establish any causes.”
An East Sussex Fire and Rescue statement said: “A call was received from a property in Barcombe Mills saying that a fire could be seen in the distance.
“Crews from Barcombe, Uckfield and Lewes were sent to the scene and on arrival they found a two-storey detached property which was well alight.
“Firefighters using breathing apparatus managed to reach a woman, aged in her 80s, who was in the home.
“Sadly, she was pronounced dead at the scene. No-one else was in the house.”
Anyone with information about the incident should call 101 quoting serial 282 of 14/12 or email email@example.com.
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