Vital minutes could mean escaping a fire with your life
In the aftermath of the tragic house blaze that claimed the lives of four children, the Derby Telegraph is today launching a fire safety campaign.
It was a tragedy that destroyed a family and devastated a community when four young children died in a horrific house fire in Hulland Ward.
The fatal blaze, last month, was started accidentally by a stray spark from an open fire.
There was also no evidence of a working smoke alarm in the property, which could have provided the family with vital minutes to escape.
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But this is something Derbyshire Fire Service sees all too often. Of the 944 accidental house fires it has attended since April 2009, almost half the properties had no working smoke alarms fitted.
As part of an initiative to save lives, The Derby Telegraph has joined forces with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service to launch a campaign called Fire: Extinguish The Risks.
Through a series of articles, the campaign aims to raises awareness of fire safety around the home and the importance of having a working smoke alarm fitted.
And as part of the initiative, we have teamed up with two retailers to offer readers a voucher for 30 per cent off a new smoke alarm.
Steve Helps, manager for fire stations across Derbyshire, said the campaign would help to save lives.
He said: "Smoke alarms provide an early warning of a fire taking hold and give people vital minutes to get out of their home safely.
"In the past two years, nine people have died in house fires in the county and in 80 per cent of those properties there were no working smoke alarms.
"Fires take hold so quickly, smoke alarms really can mean the difference between life and death."
To highlight this, Mr Helps described a typical house fire scenario, when a chip pan filled with oil suddenly bursts into flames.
"The owner is upstairs, distracted and chatting on the phone.
"A flame catches a cupboard above, which instantly starts to burn.
"The fire spreads along the cupboards, blistering shelves and charring walls. Behind the closed cupboard doors, packets of cornflakes and rice explode into sudden flames.
"Within a minute almost one entire wall of the kitchen is ablaze and thick, noxious smoke is curling off the burning furniture.
"Another minute later and chunks of flaming plaster start falling from the ceiling to the floor below, setting fire to linoleum and sideboards. By now almost the whole room is clouded in poisonous smoke, with only a few feet of clear air near the floor.
"Then the fire reaches the kitchen door. It is not closed. The blaze moves into the living room, across the ceiling. In this room are television sets, sofas, games consoles and hundreds of books. This is all fresh fuel for the fire.
"Two minutes more and the lounge is an inferno. Bookcases are wrapped in sheets of white-hot fire and a settee disintegrates from within.
"A television screen explodes in the heat and, when the fire reaches the wall, both windows smash outwards, sending plumes of smoke out into the night.
"The fire spreads towards the stairs, through another open door. The stairwell is a natural funnel for the heated smoke, which always rises upwards.
"Now the occupant hears the fierce ripping and crackling of their furniture blazing. They smell the acrid, toxic tang of smoke in their nose and throat.
"But it is too late. All exits downstairs are blocked. The bedroom window is the only means of escape – and it is a race against time to get out before the smoke overcomes the occupant.
"It has been only ten minutes since they left the pan on the hob for a life and death situation to emerge."
This is a dramatic scenario but Mr Helps points out it is all too realistic and a simple smoke alarm could have provided a very different outcome.
He said: "As soon as the smoke and heat was detected, probably within the first minute or so after the flash point, the alarm would have sounded.
"This would have alerted the owner, who would have come downstairs, seen the problem while it was still in the kitchen and could have closed the kitchen door and evacuated the house.
"They could then have called the fire service and we would have got there in a few minutes and tackled the fire, minimising the damage."
But if the owner had not left the pan unattended in the first place, the fire would not have started at all.
Mr Hands said: "People are shocked at how fast the fire spreads. It is literally minutes.
"But they are also surprised at the ways they can start and it is our job to teach them about how a few simple checks and routines can stop most fires ever happening in the house."
In the past year alone, the county's fire service has tackled more than 500 house fires.
Each blaze leaves damage. Sometimes this is a lingering smell of smoke, sometimes soot on the walls.
But in other cases it leaves a charred shell behind, destroying a house and all possessions inside. And sometimes, tragically, it can also take the lives within.
The awful blaze at Highfield Road, in Hulland Ward, on January 24, which claimed the lives of Tommy Henson, nine, and brother Rocco, four, as well as sisters Alisha, six, and Appolonia, two, is testament to this.
Their mother, Rachael Henson, managed to escape through an upstairs window but, despite her efforts, and those of her neighbours and the fire crews, none of her children survived.
Only ten days earlier, a house fire also claimed the life of 59-year-old Linda Parkes, who perished at her home in Wellington Street, Long Eaton.
Patrick McLoughlin, MP for Derbyshire Dales, which covers Hulland Ward, said he fully supported the Telegraph's campaign.
He said: "The Hulland Ward tragedy has affected the whole county and reminded us how dangerous house fires can be.
"I warmly congratulate the Derby Telegraph on this campaign. I feel it is a vital message that clearly needs to be pushed home."
Getting the safety message across
The Derby Telegraph has teamed up with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service in a new campaign called Fire: Extinguish The Risks.
The campaign follows the devastating house fire in Hulland Ward which claimed the lives of four young children.
want to highlight the importance of fire safety awareness and how a few
simple steps can mean the difference between life and death.
get across this message, the Derby Telegraph will print a series of
in-depth articles over the coming weeks demonstrating the importance of
fire safety around the home.
We also want to make sure all
readers have working smoke alarms in their homes and, to achieve this,
we have teamed up with Johnson Electrical and Anderson Electrical in
Derby so people can get 30 per cent off the price of a new alarm.
will also be given the chance to have all their questions about fire
safety answered. We have joined forces with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue
Service to host a free event in Derby Market Place this Saturday,
between 11am and 4pm. Demonstrations will be given and fire officers
will be on hand to give out help and advice.
Finally, we also
want to recruit 500 people from businesses, groups, clubs or charities
to become "fire advocates". These will provide a point of contact for
the fire service to help spread safety messages on a regular basis.