Tributes were paid today to an ‘exceptional father’ who is feared to have died along with at least four of his children in a devastating fire that tripped through their home.
David Cuthbertson, 68, was killed in the blaze that tore through the farmhouse in rural Llangammarch Wells in Powys as they slept in the early hours of yesterday.
Mr Cuthbertson is believed to have lived with seven children at the property, with just three, aged 13, 12, and ten, managing to escape unharmed.
It is still unclear how many people lost their lives in the tragedy as villagers claim that a number of Mr Cuthbertson’s children come and go from the large home.
Meanwhile a JustGiving page set up for the family had raised more than £3,000 in the 14 hours to 9am today. One tribute said: ‘Thank you for setting up this fund.
Crews of firefighters enter the torched shell of the family home in Llangammarch Wells
Seven members of the same family are feared dead after a huge fire ripped through their farmhouse and burnt it to the ground while they were asleep
The blaze ripped through the home in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, Wales, during the early hours of yesterday morning
A police car is pictured at the scene of the devastation in the Welsh village this morning
‘We lived in Cwm Deri until July of this year and knew all of the children well, all beautiful inside and out with a devoted daddy – we are heartbroken.’
Another message said: ‘I’m sure any small donation will help them massively.’ A further tribute read: ‘Very sad. Special thoughts are sent to family and friends.’
Dramatic aerial photos convey the true devastation of the fire, with the farmhouse’s roof caved in and its interior completely gutted.
Mr Cuthbertson, who was originally from Scotland, is known to have had at least two wives and nine children. He first married in 1966 and had four children, including a set of twins.
He married again in 1982 and had five more children, at least two of whom have married and live in the same Welsh village. His last wife, Judith, moved to Greece three years ago.
Mr Cuthbertson lived in Hampshire before he relocated to Wales. It is understood some of the children in the house were his step-children. Other Villagers said some of them were older and not living there permanently.
Neighbours Ron, 73, and Rosemary Birchall, 68, said Mr Cuthbertson brought up seven children after his wife Judy suffered a stroke and moved out.
The single father – known as ‘Dave’ to villagers – is a former builder who was forced to retire after falling off a ladder at work and injuring his back eight years ago.
Floral tributes have been left at the scene of the devastating fire in Llangammarch Wells
Firemen, police and forensic scientists were searching through the gutted remains of the property looking for bodies
Mr Birchall said: ‘We are close neighbours and Dave would always acknowledge us whether he was in the car or walking. My wife always talked to Dave so she is absolutely devastated.
‘I knew him as a good father and a gentle fella. My wife would say he was an exceptional father. All the other villagers are upset by this because Dave has been in the village for about 15 years.
‘He used to be a builder but suffered an accident up a ladder, fell off and injured his back. We think he was electrocuted and it threw him off the ladder.
‘His wife had a stroke and was incapacitated for a while. She moved away and couldn’t bring up the kids. The kids were well presented and they used to pass us everyday. It really is very sad. Rosemary said it’s the worst day of her life.’
He added: ‘He was a great father who loved his kids and doted on them.’
Mrs Birchall said: ‘He was a single father with seven children. They were wonderful.’
Another neighbour, who wished to remain unnamed, said the close-knit community had been rocked by the horrific incident.
He said: ‘I’m in shock, the whole village is in shock. We heard about the fire but didn’t know there were children involved till later on in the afternoon, we were in disbelief.
‘It’s hit my daughter hard because she has young children and it’s such tragic news. It’s devastating. I knew the family as I was friend with David’s ex-wife, Judy.
‘I know they had children together but she has since remarried and now lives in Greece. David had at least three or four wives and made money from barn conversions. The property was falling to bits and he converted it years ago.’
An aerial view of the farmhouse before the inferno, which burnt the property to the ground
Flowers left near the scene in Llangammarch Wells after the fire ripped through the farmhouse
Ella Robinson, 65, who lived in a bungalow near the farmhouse in 2015, knew the family well and said the youngest victim could have been six years old.
She said: ‘They were a lovely family and David was a good father. His current wife had moved out of the house some time ago when they split and was no longer living there.
‘She had a stroke but has since recovered. My ex-partner previously owned the house before selling to his brother. We split and moved out of the bungalow in 2015.
‘My ex called me last night to tell me what had happened. It’s terrible news that such young innocent children have lost their lives.’
It is believed that one of the youngsters raised the alarm after fleeing the blaze.
Speaking a press conference yesterday afternoon, Chief Superintendent Richard Lewis said the devastation caused by the inferno was so severe that bodies could not be identified at the scene.
He said: ‘Just after midnight Dyfed Powys Police were notified by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service that there was a house fire at a remote property at Llangammarch Wells, Powys.
‘Upon arrival the house was ablaze and three children aged 13, 12 and 10 years were able to escape. They are being treated in hospital but do not have life threatening injuries.
A police car cordons off a road in Llangammarch Wells near the farmhouse in the village
Due to the severity of the damage, police could not confirm how many people had been killed
A local county councillor has spoken of the community’s shock at the devastating loss of life
‘However, there are a number of people unaccounted for at this time and we can confirm that there are known to be fatalities.
‘Due to the severity of damage at the scene we are unable at this stage to identify any of the deceased or confirm numbers.’
Police are now speaking to relatives to establish how many adults and children were in the farmhouse when fire broke out.
A neighbour raised the alarm shortly after midnight in the early hours of yesterday
A villager who didn’t want to be named said: ‘The couple who loved there both had children from previous marriages and relationships.
‘There were older children living in the house but they used to come and go.
‘It must be very difficult for the police to determine who was there at the time.’
It is understood the three surviving children have now been told that several members of their close family were lost in the blaze.
Officers have spoken to the owners of the property Matthew and Lucretia Callan, who rented it to the family and were at the scene yesterday.
Mrs Callan said: ‘It is very emotive, we have been advised not to say anything.’
The family had rented the £250,000 farmhouse and small plot of land for a number of years.
The property is almost a mile from the nearest main road which caused the emergency services difficulties when they arrived shortly after midnight.
Specialist scientists and fire investigators are still assessing the scene prior to further investigation. At this time we are treating the cause of the fire as unexplained.
A neighbour at a nearby caravan holiday park said: ‘I woke up at about 2am to get a glass of water and I could see the place was floodlit by police and emergency services.
This aerial view shows the house and surrounding farm before the fire devastated the building
Police confirmed three children aged 13, 12 and 10 were able to escape when the house caught fire in the early hours of the morning
It is believed the family were asleep when the fire started during the school half-term break
‘There were helicopters there a bit later. We’ve heard a number of people died.’
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze was ‘well developed’ when firefighters arrived at the scene.
The Welsh Ambulance Service sent its Hazardous Area Response Team, as well as four crews in emergency ambulances.
The Brecon Mountain Rescue team was also sent to the blaze because it was in such a remote location
The Brecon Mountain Rescue team was also sent to the blaze because it was in such a remote location.
Kirsty Williams, Welsh assembly member for Brecon and Radnorshire, said: ‘This is devastating news in such a close-knit community.
‘I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to those affected and thank the emergency services for their assistance.’
Community councillor Jon Hather said: ‘It’s a dreadful shock for this small community and our thoughts go out to the family.’
County Councillor Tim Van-Rees, who represents the area, said: ‘I knew the family, not well, and I knew the father and several of the children.
‘I have spoken to the owner of the property – he was alerted by one of the children who came to his house in the early hours of the morning.
‘He called the fire service who went to the house straight away but unfortunately not everybody could be saved. The family have lived in the village for some time.
‘I’ve had a full description from the fire commander and they risked life and limb to see whether anything could be done but unfortunately their efforts were not well rewarded.
‘Speaking on behalf of the community our thoughts and prayers will all those affected. The community will come together and do all it can for the surviving children and relations.’
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze was ‘well developed’ when firefighters arrived at the scene
The Welsh Ambulance Service sent its Hazardous Area Response Team, as well as four crews in emergency ambulances
Chris Davies MP said: ‘I am absolutely devastated at today’s news that there was an overnight fire in Llangamarch Wells, which has claimed the lives of a father and his young children.
‘As a father to two young girls, this news has shocked me to the core. My thoughts are with the family and local community at this terrible time.
‘Our local emergency services were on the scene swiftly and have worked hard to put out the fire and identify who has been hurt. I will be keeping in close contact with the emergency services over the next 48 hours.’
Dai Hancock, from the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: ‘On arrival the attending crews were faced with a very difficult situation and did all they could in the circumstances to resolve this.
‘All of us in the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service commend them for their efforts in the face of what they were faced with last night.
‘Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and residents of Llangammarch Wells following this tragic incident within their community.
‘We would like to assure you and the residents that we will be present in the vicinity to do all we can to assist them over the coming days.’
And Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: ‘I am shocked by this incredibly sad news and my heart goes out to the family and friends of those involved in such a terrible incident.
‘I commend the bravery of the emergency services and the specialist teams as they diligently seek to establish the cause of this tragic incident. My office are in touch with Dyfed Powys police and have offered to support where possible.’