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How this fire happened

A fire broke out at a home in East Sussex on 7 May 2018 after a resident, Chrissy, left a cosmetic mirror on the bedroom windowsill and went downstairs for just 12-and-a-half minutes. After returning upstairs, Chrissy opened the bedroom door to be met by the fire, which had already enveloped a large bedroom window, rapidly spreading to curtains and destroying the bedroom. 

Thankfully, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service had fitted smoke detectors at the property 18 months previously, during a Home Safety Visit, which went off upstairs on the landing, immediately alerting Chrissy to the fire, illustrating the importance of HSVs within the community. 

Firefighters were contacted at 15.11 and crews were mobilised. Incident Commander Trevor Funnell was at the scene and explained that early intervention made a huge difference to the level of damage that the property suffered, as she was able to raise the alarm and contact the Fire Service immediately. Potentially, if Chrissy did not have a smoke alarm fitted and was downstairs at the time, the whole house could have been destroyed and the smoke alarm undoubtedly made a big difference to the level of damage caused by the fire.

Upon arrival, crews ensured that it was safe for firefighters to enter the building and a breathing apparatus team were committed by the Incident Commander. This enabled firefighters to confine the fire to the bedroom and protect the rest of the house. 

This is not the first call-out that Incident Commander Trevor Funnell has attended involving a glass, or mirror, which has been left in direct sunlight. Other factors which can make these types of incidents more likely to occur is low-sunlight, or bright sunlight, which magnifies the sunlight onto a particular area in the bedroom, or anywhere else in the house. It is very much the same as a child playing with a magnifying lens.

Magnifying glasses, paperweights and crystals stored in direct sunlight can cause a devastating fire within the home and should always be moved away from direct sunlight.

The effect it had - statement from the resident

The property was so badly damaged that Chrissy was forced to vacate her home and stay in a hotel for 12 weeks, whilst the fire investigation and repairs were carried out.

Chrissy spoke of the traumatic moments as the incident unfolded: “When I discovered the fire, I was in total shock, as I never usually leave a mirror on the side and when I opened the bedroom door I saw that the curtains were on fire. Thankfully, I had managed to shut the bedroom door, as well as escape with my dog. My neighbour saw me crying and immediately came to assist.

As crews arrived, Chrissy was already outside because of the smoke alarm. The Incident Commander explained that the early alert was helpful, as this enabled Chrissy to provide crucial information to the crews, which reduced the extent of the fire damage within the property.

At the time that the fire broke out, Chrissy was downstairs, which meant that obviously there was a potential for the whole house to have been affected. Luckily, the smoke alarms previously by fitted by crews, both upstairs and downstairs, minimised the extent of the damage.

Chrissy added: “I am grateful to Trevor for walking me back into the property, once the fire was extinguished, to have a look at the extent of the damage. If he had not been kind enough to do this, I think I would always have had a mental block to return to the bedroom. Also, my neighbours have been incredibly supportive and amazing, by leaving bags of clothes for me. To this day, I don’t know who they were, as they never left their names, so I can’t even thank them. Kind neighbours also re-decorated the bedroom for me and organised a grand unveiling to celebrate me returning home.”

Safety messages

Smoke alarms

Working smoke alarms potentially saved the life of Chrissy, as the immediate warning gave her time to safely escape from her home.

It was a smoke alarm which potentially prevented the whole house from being destroyed and probably made a huge difference to the level of damage caused by the fire. 

This incident demonstrates the importance of having a smoke alarm fitted inside every property. 

Home Safety Visit

Fortunately, Chrissy had had a smoke alarm fitted 18 months earlier when East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service had offered a Home Safety Visit

Home Safety Visits are free and the Fire Service provides smoke alarms, which are a minimum to keep you safe, as part of the visit. 

House Insurance

House insurance is essential, as without this the repercussions of a serious fire would have been very different and Chrissy could have been potentially left homeless, or without any personal possessions, which all had to be replaced following her insurance claim.

Further Safety Advice

  • Make sure that you have a smoke alarm fitted on every level of your property.
  • Take all glass mirrors, as well as reflective items, off the windowsill.
  • Do not stand just under the windows of a property, when there is a fire, as these could blow out.
  • Take out full house contents and buildings insurance.

Fire Safety in the Home 

Find out how you can Be Your Own Hero and take steps to keep both you and your family safe in the home.

Do you have a similar story?

Finally, we would be interested to hear from you if you have had a similar experience to the fire detailed above, or would like to raise any related matters or even just generally comment on how useful you found our Black Museum.

Please send us your details and a comments via our on-line feedback form.

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