A MASSIVE fire at a 400-year-old cottage was probably started accidentally, experts have concluded.

An investigation was launched after the huge blaze in the thatched roof of the home in Hart's Lane, Ardleigh.

Dozens of firefighters from across the north of the county were dispatched to the scene shortly before 5pm on Sunday.

They then spent more than 12 hours battling the flames which were finally completely put out at 6.30am on Monday.

Even after the fire was put out, some crews remained the scene and were removing thatch from the roof for several more hours.

An investigation into the cause of the fire has concluded "the most probable cause of the fire is accidental."

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

 Essex County Fire and Rescue Service has released advice to anyone who lives in a thatched cottage which includes filling out a specialised information pack about the home and leaving it in a position so firefighters can easily access it.

Other advice includes insulating the chimney flue to prevent heat transferring to the thatch, having it swept regularly by a qualified sweep and inspected by an engineer.

Thatched cottage owners should only burn seasoned wood, develop a fire plan in case of emergency and ensure smoke alarms are fitted throughout the property - including in any loft spaces.

Extra care should be taken when using hardware tools like blowtorches or heat guns and a bird guard should be fitted to stop animals nesting in the chimney.

For more information about safety in thatched properties visit essex-fire.gov.uk.