Sidmouth hotel owner aids fire chief to reduced fire risk

Bedding items removed

PILES of mattresses and other upholstered furniture have been removed from the derelict Fortfield Hotel, Sidmouth, at the request of a fire chief.

It is understood its owner has ordered patrols of the building during FolkWeek to prevent trespassers, although he refused to confirm this.

Sidmouth Police were told about the removals.

“All the information we have is that workmen would be in the hotel on behalf of the owner, clearing out items from inside and it would take a week to 10 days,” said a police spokeswoman, who said police would patrol the town “as usual” during the folk festival.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service group manager Adge Tilke confirmed he met with owner Andrew Torjussen 10 days ago “and discussed with him the problems we had with the building that we wouldn’t want to go inside if it was on fire.”

He was pleased the bedding and chairs had been removed as it reduced the risk of them catching fire and torching the empty shell of a building.

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“It will also make the building less attractive. There is lots of evidence people have been socialising there,” he said.

Evidence shows the security fence has been breached and youths and the homeless were using the hotel, taking in paraffin heaters and alcohol, he said.

“The fence should be bolted together. It provides a defence but not to someone who really wants to get inside,” he warned.

Mr Tilke is fearful the huge building, with weather damaged timbers, would be difficult to fight should it catch fire, and it would be dangerous to send in firefighters to rescue anyone inside.

Now just a huge shell, a fire would soon take hold of the whole structure.

“Almost every single fire door and separating doors have been removed. The building would burn very quickly. It would be an inferno. It would collapse at an early stage of the fire, which gives us concerns,” said Mr Tilke.

He said new flats, built close to the Fortfield Hotel, could be at risk from the intense radiated heat from such a fire.

“It would burn furiously and it would be difficult to fire fight because it is so close to the new flats. We couldn’t get close enough.

“If it did catch fire it would present a risk to properties around it.”

George Bristow, 77, is one such neighbour. He described the piles of mattresses as a health hazard and added: “It is very unpleasant for us living close by. The fact is that it is used and will be used next week. I am sure people will doss down in there. “The fencing is useless. I think the owner should board the place up.”

Mr Tilke said he understood the owner would be organising patrols of the building to keep people away. However, Mr Torjussen refused to comment.

Fortfield Hotel is not listed and could, says East Devon District Council, be demolished safely with the knowledge of its building control department.

“It is next to a conservation area, that is why the design must be sympathetic to its setting,” said a council spokesman. “We currently have no new application for the site, so there is no change in planning status.”