Yesterday afternoon I was about to leave for a meeting in London. On my way to the car I noticed smoke coming from the flats over the road, heavy smoke. There was no-one around, so I walked across – it was coming from the covered car parking, mostly wood and slate. Cars were still in the covered spaces. I wasn’t sure at first whether someone was burning garden waste or … then very quickly realised that this was no bonfire. I ran back to the house to get my phone, by the time I was calling the incident in to 999 the fire was out of control. The wood, slates, cars, were on fire.
What took me aback was the noise – it was a roar, a huge, terrifying roar of flame. I’ve never experienced that before. The smoke was by now intense, dark and all enveloping, quite toxic, the smell was stomach churning and caused me to hold my breath. The flames were tall, really tall – half the height of the four floor block of apartments. This had all accelerated in a couple of minutes.
By now, other people from our road were in the car park, all on their mobiles, all phoning 999. Other people managed to go to the front entrance of the apartments and raise the alarm to tenants. Were able to tell them to leave the building for their own safety. Many of the tenants were elderly and needed physical help to exit the building.
In a few minutes the Fire Engines arrived. The flames were roaring out of control, the noise scary, the smoke horrendous. Within minutes they had put the fire out.
There are reasons for this. The fire was easily accessible – it was in the car port. The fire was outside of the building, so tenants were not in direct danger. The fire was close to the fire station – we are talking about a few hundred metres away – my office window overlooks the expanse of the Cricket Green – and the fire station on the other side.
It was intense and scary – but no one was hurt. Everyone got out of the building. A few cars were trashed, and the car port will need rebuilding. It made me think …
What if the fire had been in an apartment or a house? With the intensity, the ferocity, things to fuel that fire, the smoke … it took just minutes for the fire to get from smouldering to out of control. What if you had elderly relatives with you, young children … how would you prioritise who to help – how would you help them? Would you know how to get out? Would you panic? Would you know what to do? Would everybody know how to get out?
It was bloomin’ scary… and I was over the road! All I had to do was phone 999.
Fires ARE scary and fast and deadly. In my book ‘How To Keep Safe … In a Sometimes Scary World’ home fire is one of the topics talked about – and planned for. It raises a conversation with your children around what to do in the event of a fire, how to keep safe as a family.
The moral of this story? – Have a fire plan.
- because, just sometimes, minutes are all you have.