‘I dread to think what could have happened’

Debbie Withey outside her flat
Debbie Withey outside her flat

A woman who was trapped in her home while a fire burned outside her front door says she had a lucky escape.

Debbie Withey believes the fire was probably started as a prank by youths who have no idea how serious the incident could have been.

The fire was started in Bridge Street on Monday afternoon

The fire was started in Bridge Street on Monday afternoon

Wheelie bins and rubbish were set alight in an alleyway off Bridge Street and firefighters had to wear breathing apparatus to put out the blaze.

But Debbie says it could have been much worse if it hadn’t happened at a busy time of day in the town centre.

“I’m still in shock,” she told the Free Press. “I was at home because I wasn’t very well but my partner, who has chronic heart disease, had just gone out. It would have been even scarier if he had been there.”

The fire caused traffic disruption in the town centre on Monday afternoon as the emergency services arrived at the scene, but the first Debbie knew of the fire was when she smelt smoke in the upstairs maisonette she has lived in for five-and-a-half years.

Debbie inspects the damage

Debbie inspects the damage

Crews had initially been told that the flat was empty.

Debbie said: “The first I was aware of the fire was when I could smell smoke in the room and I looked out of the window and there were four fire engines outside.

“The smoke had come in under the front door and it was black and toxic.

“I didn’t know what was happening and I thought maybe there was a chimney fire, but it was quite disorientating.

“I opened the front door and the firefighters told me to stay where I was. I think they were surprised because someone had told them there was nobody in the flat.

“I was in there for what felt like ages and it was absolutely terrifying.”

As fire crews were trying to put out the fire in Bridge Street, another bin was set alight just a couple of hundred yards away in King Street.

Debbie believes the same group were responsible for that and is convinced it was not an accident.

She said: “It has definitely been done deliberately. You just think if somebody can do that, what if they had put something through the letterbox. There is only one way out of the flat.

“Or what if it had been during the night. There wouldn’t have been a passer-by to raise the alarm.

“They don’t realise how serious it could have been. I was very, very lucky. I dread to think what could have happened if we couldn’t have got out.

“We’ve been saying for a long time it’s dangerous in the alley, it’s used by all sorts - drug users, people who need the toilet - there was a camera there but even that got stolen.”

Debbie and her partner Paul had to stay with relatives after the fire and cannot go back to their home until it has been made safe.