A FAMILY returned from a trip out to find their New Forest home in flames last night.

The cottage in Brook Lane, Woodgreen - north of Fordingbridge - was destroyed in the blaze, which is not believed to be suspicious.

Daily Echo: (Picture by Russell Sach)

Eight fire crews from three counties spent hours fighting the flames after the emergency services were called at around 6.30pm.

Stewart Hall, chair of Woodgreen Parish Council, said residents of the village were “truly sad” for the family.

“They are lovely people,” he said.

“They were out at the time the fire began, but returned when it was raging. It is very sad.”

He said the family had been offered a place to stay in the village overnight by kind-hearted residents.

“We are all very, very upset about it - it is difficult to imagine the sense of loss they must feel,” he said.

Daily Echo:

“The man is a businessman in Salisbury, and the family have lived in the village for a long time. We have a very close-knit community and I know they were offered a place to stay last night in the village."

A bystander said the fire had been ferocious.

He said: “The house looks as though it has been burned to the ground.

“The wind is very strong and the fire men have been busy damping down to stop the embers from catching the other homes from catching fire."

Another villager, who asked not to be named, said the sound of the house burning was “extraordinary”.

“There have been a few fires here over the years, but nothing as devastating as this,” she said.

“You couldn't see for the smoke. There was a tremendous noise as the batons exploded and tiles slid from the roof.”

She added: “The family have been here for almost 20 years, and they are very well-loved. “They have lots of friends and family living nearby, and there will be places for them to stay, but they have lost absolutely everything.”

The first floor and roof of the large property were “well alight” when crews arrived.

Daily Echo:

Hampshire firefighters were supported by crews from Wiltshire and Dorset, with all working together to contain the fire and stop it spreading to other properties.

Compressed air foam systems were used to protect nearby buildings, and crews remained at the scene into the night.