The blaze broke out after rubbish outside Malmesbury Abbey, in Wiltshire, was torched on Friday, June 3. Firefighters rushed to the scene from a station in Chippenham 10 miles away because the local, on-call fire station was unable to crew an appliance due to a lack of retained firefighters.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Andy Cole said: “Firefighters did a great job of preventing the fire from spreading.
“This fire occurred just down the road from Malmesbury Fire Station, but unfortunately, due to lack of available firefighters, Malmesbury was not available to attend.
“Forty-six of the 50 fire stations that cover Dorset and Wiltshire are entirely staffed by on-call firefighters or have an on-call element.
“On-call staff are vital to our Service and we continue to try to recruit more on-call firefighters across Dorset and Wiltshire to optimise the availability of our fire engines, this type of incident shows exactly why we need these new recruits.”
He added that the service will always make sure a fire engine responds to an incident when needed and if a crew from Malmesbury had been available the response time could have been reduced.
But had it not been for fast-acting locals and business owners who tackled the flames, the abbey could have been badly damaged.
Staff from The Bird Cage restaurant, The Old Bell Hotel and Co-op Food store were all involved in the battle to save the Grade I listed abbey, which was built on the site of a former Saxon monastery dating back to the AD700.
Resident, Charli Cumberpatch, said: “A massive well done and thank you to staff at The Birdcage and Old Bell and local folks who reacted so fast tonight with fire extinguishers and buckets of water to put out the fire at the abbey.
READ MORE ABOUT TUBE STRIKE FURY
“It’s believed this started deliberately and enquiries are ongoing.
“Any witnesses can call 101 and quote crime reference number 54220057246.”
Mayor of Malmesbury, Kim Power, said: “Please don’t name and shame people publicly… if you know anything or who it was then please ring 101 and report to the police.
“Every call logs adds to the police building up an evidence file, especially when we have seen a rise in anti-social behaviour lately.
“The situation needs to be sorted out by the professionals in the proper way.”
In its heyday Malmesbury Abbey was an important Benedictine Abbey and a noted seat of learning.
At that time it possessed the second largest library in Europe. One member of the abbey’s community was the 12th-century historian William of Malmesbury.
The present abbey dates from 1180 with the building added to over the following 200 years. A spire made it the tallest building in England around that time.
Malmesbury Abbey was given Grade I listed status in 1949, after having survived past blazes and the English Civil War.