I could not breathe! The fumes and smoke from the burning polystyrene ceiling tiles were choking me. Droplets fell all around me like raindrops. I managed to struggle through the dense smoke, but could not see a thing. Laying flat on my stomach I slid along the floor and rolled myself down the stairs.
Getting below the smoke I was able to gasp some air into my lungs, as my daughter helped me out of the house. It was a living nightmare, something you never think will happen to you. My house was on fire.
The day had started like any other day. I had left for work that morning, waving goodbye to my daughter Maureen and giving my 10-month-old granddaughter a hug and kiss.
Like any other Wednesday, I had been very busy preparing the staff wage sheets for Thursday payday. By the time I closed the books for that week I was ready for the lunch I knew Maureen would have waiting for me, and I went home.
Maureen told me about her busy morning cleaning the bedrooms and changing the bed linen. It had been cold so she had lit the oil heater we kept on the landing, to keep her warm. By the time she had finished, Samantha had fallen asleep in her cot. She had only awoken just before I arrived home. We drank our tea, unaware of the fire taking hold above our heads.
I opened the door to go to the upstairs toilet, and smoke billowed out. Quickly filling the kitchen. I shouted to my daughter to ring the fire brigade — though I realised, even then, she needed no telling, as she was already dialling the number. I raced up the stairs to see if there was anything I could do.
To this day I do not know how I crossed the burning landing, and closed the bedroom doors. Or, why! I then ran back down the stairs to get a bowl to fill with water, and try to douse the flames — stopping only to ring my boss to tell him I could not get back to work that afternoon, because my house was on fire.
I can still remember how shocked he sounded, when he said,” My God girl, get the hell out of there” before he put the phone down.
Running back to the fire, I turned on both of the bath taps and filled the bowl with water, throwing it over the now-raging fire. The light bulb imploded with a bang. It was then I realised I could not breathe, and managed to get down the stairs.
The firemen had to use breathing apparatus! The fumes from the polystyrene tiles were very toxic. They worked really hard and managed to save my home for me, but there was an awful lot of damage, and mess.
I know I was very foolish to have gone back upstairs, by trying to fight the fire I could have been trapped and never have lived to tell this tale. Even more horrifying to think about, is that had my granddaughter not woken from her nap when she did, she would never have survived those toxic fumes, or the smoke.
Much later that day, the fire chief told us what had happened. The fire had been caused by an, almost new, heater flaring up. The flames, reaching a dressing gown hanging on the door, had spread rapidly. My action in closing the bedroom doors had held the fire back long enough for the fire brigade to reach us in time to save the rest of the house.
My boss arrived seconds after the fire engine, and we stood together watching the flames burning through the roof. He put his arm around me to comfort me. Only then did the tears flow.
When I returned to my work sometime later, he said, “I knew you were conscientious, Violet, but ringing me from inside your burning house to say you could not come back to work that afternoon, beats anything I have ever heard before, or maybe ever will again”. I never did live that one down!
I can never forget my experience and from that day on I have made every precaution so that I will never experience anything like it again.