Smoke alarm saves lives of house fire couple

Shropshire house fire victim Tracy Knowles thanks Oswestry Crew Manager Adrian Bowen who fitted the smoke alarms two years ago that saved her life.

A smoke alarm woke a couple when fire broke out in their remote Shropshire farmhouse – and saved their lives.

Householder Tracy Knowles today urged everyone to ensure they had smoke alarms installed in their homes after enduring the “terrifying” experience of a house fire in the middle of the night.

“We would have died if it wasn’t for the smoke alarm waking us up at 2.45am,” said Tracy, after the blaze at White Hall Farm, Aston, Oswestry.

She praised “on call” firefighters who arrived at the property within 14 minutes from Oswestry Fire Station led by Crew Manager Adrian Bowen, who also works as a Royal Mail supervisor, who had helped to fit the smoke alarms two years earlier.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer John Redmond said the incident was “a perfect example” of why every home should have a working smoke alarm.

Fire took hold in the three storey property from an extractor fan in a bathroom at the back of the house. Flames quickly spread into the attic rooms above as Tracy and her husband Clive slept.

They were awoken by the smoke alarm to the sight and smell of smoke seeping through their bedroom ceiling.

“We jumped out of bed, put the light on and found we couldn’t make a 999 call as the phones were not working because they were out of charge. I ran downstairs to search for the mobile phone and Clive ran to find the source of the fire,” said Tracy.

Her husband hastily filled water into a bin and threw it onto the bathroom wall which “glowed orange” in the dark with the fire spreading. He then raced to an outbuilding for a fire extinguisher as Tracy battled to open electric gates to their property which had jammed – ready for the arrival of 12 firefighters from Oswestry, more than three miles away.

Adrian points to the extractor fan next to the blackened and burnt bathroom ceiling with Tracy standing beside him

Householder Tracy Knowles and firefighter Adrian Bowen inspect the damage from the extractor fan fire which triggered a smoke alarm before flames could spread throughout the house

Firefighters used bolt croppers to gain access through a second gateway and searched the five bedroomed farmhouse with a further three attic rooms using heat seeking equipment to ensure there were no “hotspots” which could re-ignite the blaze.

“Firefighters arrived as quickly as they could but it has made us realise that if we hadn’t had a smoke alarm the house would have burned down and we would have lost our lives. It gives you a very scary feeling,” said Tracy, who was later admitted to the coronary care unit at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital for 24 hours with a raised heartbeat brought on by the horror of the house fire.

The couple, who employ more than 20 at their Black Country Metalworks business based in the farmhouse grounds had also feared that their storage warehouse, office and “all the business” could have been lost.

The smoke alarms had been fitted on each floor of the property by firefighters two years before as a temporary fire prevention measure after a request for a home fire safety visit following a fire safety campaign by Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Tracy added: “It was terrifying on the night but overall it has been a positive experience. We did escape unscathed and our home and business is safe. But it was a very important lesson about the necessity of working smoke alarms and the importance of having a pre-planned fire escape plan.

Her husband Clive added: "We would have been dead if it wasn't for the smoke alarm."

Rabinder Dhami, team leader in the county brigade’s community fire safety department urged people to check any build up of dust in extractor fans and to ensure their homes had smoke alarms. Properties of three storeys or more are advised to have a hard wired smoke alarm installation.

“It’s also important to know what we store in the loft and perhaps to have a clear out to reduce the chance of a fire spreading.”

For more fire prevention measures for home and business visit our Promoting Safer Communities pages or call the Community Fire Safety team on 01743 260 200.

23rd November, 2012