Wharfside fire: Residents tell of horror

RESIDENTS living in the flats destroyed in yesterday’s huge blaze have told of their frantic bid to flee the burning building.

The alarm was raised shortly before 4am on Sunday when many of the occupants were asleep.

Fire at Wharfside Appartments

Fire at Wharfside Appartments

Firefighters banged on doors rousing residents and helping them get out as quickly as possible.

Luckily no-one was injured but many people have lost everything, with first estimates suggesting a third of the apartments have been destroyed.

Distraught Laura Wilson-Jones, 26, whose flat was very near the source, is one who has lost her flat and all her possessions. She said: “The alarm woke me up and I went onto the hallway and saw the light of the fire at the top of the stairs. I realised I had to get out and I put some clothes on, grabbed my phone and went out. I saw how bad the fire was from outside. My flat was very close to the fire so it has completely collapsed. Everything was in that flat - I have lost everything. I will have to start all over again.”

Chris Shepherd, 41, also lives in the worst affected area.

He said: “I woke up to hear a fireman breaking down my door. The fire had been going since around 3am but they had not got to me until around 5am. I was quite lucky really.

“As there was no smoke nearby, the alarm didn’t go off and I didn’t hear the main alarm.

“I am grateful to the fireman who woke me up. ”

Many of the residents are students from performing arts group ALRA, based at The Mill at the Pier and it was one of them, Jack Evans who opened up the Mill for people to shelter. Staff members had brought in food and supplies, with aid from the Salvation Army and Tesco who sent down food and drink.

Jack, 22, said: “I realised that no-one had anywhere to go and as I had the keys I opened the building up.

“It was so much better than being outside. It has been a surreal experience, but everyone has pulled together.”

Sophie King, 22, said: “If the students didn’t live here, not everyone would have got up.

“We had a fire drill last week and because the alarms kept going off people turned them off. But we heard an alarm outside and got up. As we knew who was in, we started banging on everyone’s doors.”

Rachel Stockdale, 24, said: “ALRA has been amazing, all the teachers have come in, providing food and drink.

“If the centre was not open, everybody would have been outside in the rain. It has been a very stressful atmosphere as everyone is upset.”

Spokesman for Contour Property Services, which manages facilities at all the flats, Mike Johnston, said: “We initially tried to isolate part of the building so other residents could stay in and keep water and electricity going, but as the day went on it became apparent that the whole building would have to be evacuated.

“About 40 homes have been damaged beyond repair. The optimistic prediction is of people being allowed back into the salvageable homes is a week.

“The default position was to ask people that if they had alternative accommodation then stay there, otherwise they are being put up by the council or a hotel.”

Structural engineers will be going into the building this morning to assess the damage.

But last night after several residents had been allowed to retrieve a few possessions, the building was locked down for security reasons as firefighters couldn’t be expected to escort residents back into the premises all night.