A £1.5 million thatched property owned by one of Trivial Pursuit's original question setters has been gutted by a huge fire.
Firefighters tackled the blaze in Tamarisk Way, East Preston near Littlehampton, from 8.30pm on Sunday night to about 7am the following morning.
The house, owned by children’s author and journalist Mitchell Symons, was left in smouldering state come midday yesterday as crews remained at the scene to dampen down the thatch.
One of Mr Symons’ sons was in the house at the time of the fire along with his wife but the quick-thinking of two security guards on the seaside private estate meant it was only possessions, and not lives, that were lost.
Security guards Sean Wilson, 27, and Peter Stringer, 48, were doing their rounds when they spotted smoke coming from the family home.
Mr Wilson, from Worthing, said: “It was about 8.30pm when we saw the smoke. We thought it was probably a bonfire but decided to take a closer look.
“After getting closer we realised the roof was on fire and went to notify the owners.”
The fire was already raging in the thatched roof and flames had destroyed the wires – plunging the home into darkness.
Mr Wilson added: “There were no lights on but we knocked anyway and they came to the door.
“They had been trying to find out why the electricity had gone and they presumed we were from the power board.
“It was then we told them to get out. They were completely unaware – totally shocked and panicked.
“It didn’t take long for the fire to take hold and the whole roof was gone in minutes”.
Their boss, Mark Lynch, director of Assured Facilities security contractors, said his men could have saved their lives.
He said: “I don’t want to play it up but their quick thinking could have saved their lives. I’m very proud of them”.
Mr Lynch explained Mr Symons, who as well as being a famous author was a principal writer for the early UK editions of the board game Trivial Pursuit, is currently away in Barbados but had been notified about the blaze.
Neighbour Richard Kirch, who lives opposite in The Breakers, took the young couple into his home along with their two pet Chinchillas which were also saved.
He said: “At first I could only see smoke. It looked like it was coming out of the chimney.
“Then the fire brigade turned up and I could see flames over the fence.”
Mr Kirch said at one point he was concerned about his own roof, which is also thatch, but the firefighters were able to control the fire so there was no risk.
He added: “It was a ghastly business. Thankfully a lot of Mr Symons work has been saved.
“They managed to rescue a hard drive and he had his work backed up on a cloud (remote data storage).
“I am very sorry to see happen to the house. I have known it since I was a boy in the 1960s. It was one of the original properties on the estate.”
Anne Alderson, who sounded the alarm, saw the flames from her house in West Ridings, which runs behind Tamarisk Way.
She said: “I looked out and saw these huge flames. I rang 999 but was told 10 fire engines were already there.
“It was quite frightening seeing all the flames going up.”