A MAN was last night in police custody on suspicion of starting a devastating fire which gutted a historic thatched cottage.

The smell of dank smoke hung around the village of Sutton, in West Oxfordshire, as the family home smouldered throughout Saturday.

Up to 70 firefighters are thought to have battled the blaze at Tudor Cottage. A 35-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of arson.

The fire started at about 1.20am on Saturday and raged for six hours before Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service could bring it under control.

The homeowner, understood to be mum-of-two Patricia Gilgrass, escaped unharmed.

It is not known if anyone else was in the house at the time, but nobody was injured in the blaze.

Ann Dixon-Brown, 66, who lives opposite the house on Eynsham Road, said: “It was quite a shock to see the thatch burning.

“It is probably one of the oldest houses in the village. It always has been a point of note.”

The fire started in a workshop next to the cottage, but quickly spread to the house.

Firefighters from Witney and Eynsham were first on the scene, but soon crews from across the county were fighting to save the building and its contents.

Incident commander Paul Bramble said the fire had destroyed two thirds of the building.

He said: “Typically of thatched fires it did spread quite rapidly. The workshop is completely destroyed.

“The whole of the thatched roof is completely destroyed, as well as the first floor and the attic rooms.

“Thankfully, they got out safely due to smoke alarms being fitted and people seeing the fire early.”

The workshop also contained a dangerous gas cylinder.

Group manager Jason Crapper said: “The initial crews were faced with a difficult situation with a hazardous LPG cylinder involved in the workshop and a fire that was quickly spreading through the thatch of a nearby house.

“Unfortunately, due to the rapidity of spread, both buildings were severely damaged although some items of value were rescued by firefighters.”

Police have launched an investigation and are appealing for anyone with information to call 08458 505505 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.