Rat chewing wire may be to blame for blaze

A HUGE blaze which destroyed a retired firefighter's home could have been started by a rat.
Investigators are looking into whether a rodent chewed through an electrical wire, sparking the blaze in Bedhampton.

Police say they are still keeping an open mind that it could have been the work of arsonists.

But sniffer dogs have so far been unable to find any accelerants.

Homeowner Johnny Franklin, 49, is still trawling through the charred remains of his house in Mill Lane, where he has lived for the past 13 years.

His beloved collection of fire brigade and military memorabilia was worth an estimated £160,000. It including one of the world's first firefighter tunics, but is now nothing more than a pile of ashes and damaged metal helmets.

Mr Franklin, who spent 10 years as a firefighter in London, said: 'I have no idea what caused it.

'A sniffer dog was looking for accelerants and it didn't find a thing. It actually came back with sausages.

'Early indications are that it was an electrical fault. The seat of the fire was in the lounge.

'There is a possibility a rat may have chewed through something. There were wires in there.

'But there's no proof – there's nothing left.'

It is believed the fire may have burned for several hours before it was noticed by a neighbour at 3.30am on Sunday.

As reported in The News yesterday Mr Franklin, his eight-year-old daughter Nikita and his rottweiler dog Max had gone away for the weekend to Derby to help his father at a Royal Navy reunion dinner.

Fighting back tears, Mr Franklin said: 'I am very spiritual. Although I have lost everything, for some reason my daughter, my dog and the two hamsters came with us.

'There was no life lost.'

Mr Franklin's ex-partner Carol Ward, 37, of Sparsholt Close, Leigh Park, said: 'I'm in absolute shock and gutted for Johnny. I cried my eyes out when I first saw it.

'First thing this morning Nikita said "I want to go and see my home".

'Now she's trying to dig up what's left of her possessions.

'She's found the bike she got for Christmas, so she's very happy she's retrieved that.'

Fire investigation officer Dave Lock said: 'We have got a couple of issues which we need answers to before we can come up with a final cause.

'However, at this present time we are looking at what we believe is an accidental cause.

'We are still keeping arson on the horizon just in case.'

He added: 'Anything can cause an electrical fault. It could have been caused by rodents.

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