THESE pictures show the devastation fire can wreak on properties with thatched roofs. Seven fire crews tackled the blaze in East Hagbourne overnight on Saturday. The last fire engine only left on Monday afternoon.

In May, a similar blaze destroyed a grade-II listed cottage and family home in Besselsleigh, south of Oxford.

Experts say Oxfordshire is one of the most densely-thatched areas in the UK outside of Devon and Dorset. Insurer Reedways estimates the average cost of a thatch fire is £350,000.

Firefighter Paul Webster, who was the incident commander at Hagbourne this weekend, said: “The speed at which the fire spread throughout the whole roof shows how little time people will have to think in a fire situation.

“This shows the importance of families calling the fire service immediately.” Richard Silcock, 36, from West Hagbourne, who set up refreshments for the crew in a nearby school, said: “When we first got there it was out of control.

“It was so hot the windows of the school we were in actually cracked.”

Thatch Fire Prevention, which offers free advice to thatched-home owners, said the most common cause of fires was now wood burners.

The group said five thatches have been destroyed by fire in Oxfordshire so far this year – in Hagbourne, Besselsleigh, two neighbouring houses at Barford St Michael in June and a home in Swalcliffe in March – compared to one in all of 2012.

“The main causes of fires are chimneys being too low, which allow embers to escape on to roofs, and heat transfer from chimneys,” said Rob Norcott, director of Thatching Advisory Services.

“Prevention is the best cure.”

Thatched roofs can cost upwards of £20,000 and need to be replaced completely every 25 years.