A RURAL community has rallied round to help a family who lost everything when their remote hill-top farmhouse was destroyed by fire.

The drama began on Sunday afternoon when Stuart and Susan Rigg's seven-year-old son Thomas spotted smoke billowing from the roof while he was playing outside.

He alerted his mother, who was in the kitchen with youngest son Elliott, six, and Jessica Burgess, the 19-year-old daughter of a friend who is staying with the family.

After calling the fire brigade, there was little they could do other than watch in disbelief as fire engulfed their home, at Spanham Farm, part of the Scargill Estate, in Teesdale, and a strong wind fanned the flames.

However, as details of the family's plight spread across the dale on social media, an urgent appeal for donations was launched.

Two town centre businesses in Barnard Castle – Zara Countrywear and Picture This - offered to act as collection points for clothes, toys, footwear and other goods and donations poured in as soon as the shops opened on Monday.

Mr and Mrs Rigg, who are well known as organisers for the Teesdale and Richmond branch of the Chernobyl Children's Lifeline charity, said they were “quite overwhelmed” by the response to their plight.

Mrs Rigg said: “It was just a normal typical Sunday. We had been making up extra sheep pens for lambing and had come in for lunch.

“Stuart went to check on the sheep, then the power tripped off. I went to switch it back on and Thomas came in saying there was smoke.

“It was billowing from the roof. We just thought the chimney was smoking and because we didn't know the house was on fire, we didn't grab anything.

“We literally have what we were standing in. I just cannot comprehend what's happened.”

She added: “Stuart and I are normally the ones that help - rescuing dogs, fundraising for Chernobyl and hosting Chernobyl children – we are not normally the ones who receive help.”

Donna Dobson, owner of Zara Countrywear, said she could see events unfolding at the Riggs' farmhouse from her home in Marwood.

“It was just absolutely devastating sat in my own home looking at a friend's that was on fire. They do so much for everybody else and then this happens to them.

“I saw messages on Facebook from people asking if there was anything they could do to help and I thought the shop could be a collection point so there was a base for people to drop things off.

“There has been a stream of calls from people asking for shoe and clothes sizes. We have been given a Playstation with a box full of games and a Nintendo DS. There are also books and colouring pens.”

Mrs Dobson added: “I know the biggest pile of clothes and toys won't replace what they have lost, but it will help.”

At its height, 25 firefighters from Barnard Castle, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Bishop Auckland and Darlington tackled the blaze.

Incident commander Phill Innis, from County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said the biggest challenge had been getting water to the farmhouse, which stands 1,500ft above sea level.

“We got a water relay up and running involving two tractors, two water bowsers and four fire appliances ferrying water from local streams and hydrants to the aerial ladder platform,” he said.

The fire was brought under control within 90 minutes, however, officers remained at the scene for more than 12 hours damping down and ensuring there was no reignition of the blaze.

Mr Innis said an investigation into the cause of the fire had begun.