Families in fear after flats blaze

PUBLISHED: 13:46 16 November 2006 | UPDATED: 11:14 06 May 2010

Families at risk: from left, Mya, 3, and Clare Waterman, Vicki and Daniel Flett, Jordan Hardwicke, 8, Kerry and Nathan Gray, 3, and Clare Playford

Families at risk: from left, Mya, 3, and Clare Waterman, Vicki and Daniel Flett, Jordan Hardwicke, 8, Kerry and Nathan Gray, 3, and Clare Playford

THE lives of children, young couples and a pregnant woman were put at risk in a fire almost certainly started by an arsonist. Choking black smoke filled Apollo Court in Apollo Way, Stevenage, on Friday night after a sofa, that had been abandoned inside th

The settee where the fire was started

THE lives of children, young couples and a pregnant woman were put at risk in a fire almost certainly started by an arsonist.

Choking black smoke filled Apollo Court in Apollo Way, Stevenage, on Friday night after a sofa, that had been abandoned inside the front door of the building by the stairs, was set alight.

Residents alerted the fire service at 7.40pm when the dense smoke began to spread through the three-storey building and under doors.

Several residents had to take refuge on their balconies with their children and were rescued by one couple living opposite using a ladder.

"Whoever did this is a maniac. It is a miracle nobody was killed," said the woman who helped lead people to safety with her husband and wanted to remain anonymous.

"We heard shouting outside and when my husband and I went and looked we could see the smoke and people shouting for help.

"We got a ladder and managed to get most of them out before the fire brigade arrived."

Charlotte Conway has refused to leave her apartment and was back this week with daughter Libby despite being only four weeks away from having her second child.

Talking about her ordeal, Charlotte said: "Luckily, Libby was staying with my boyfriend's mum when the fire happened.

"Someone rang the buzzer to say there was a fire and to get out. But there was too much thick smoke to get down the stairs so we shut the door and the smoke started to come underneath the door.

"Firemen eventually came and led us from the building. It was very frightening and being heavily pregnant I was very anxious to get out of the flat and to safety.

"The carpet is damaged and the baby clothes are dirty but other than a sore throat we are OK."

Her mother Carol Conway, who lives nearby, said: "The lives of my daughter, granddaughter and all the other adults and children were put at risk by whoever set fire to the sofa.

"People could have died by this act of stupidity."

Another resident, Vicki Flett, was trapped in her first floor flat with sons Jordan, eight, and Daniel, 15 months.

"The smoke was coming under the front door so the only way I could get away from the smoke was out on the balcony," said Ms Flett.

"Thank God a neighbour had a ladder and I dangled the kids over the side of the balcony and they were grabbed and taken to safety. I climbed over the railings and managed to get away from the flats.

"Whoever set fire to the sofa, which I had seen in the hallway, was a lunatic. They must have known people were in the building.

"This fire could have been a major disaster with people losing their lives."

A spokesman for the St Pancras Housing Association, owners of the building which has eight apartments, said: "There were no casualties inside the building, following the fire which started when a sofa in the main hall was set alight.

"The tenants acted very quickly to call the fire brigade, which arrived in only 10 minutes. The flames did not spread beyond the hall.

"Six of the apartments were occupied on Friday evening and all were evacuated. We have provided accommodation at a local hotel for all residents until the damage is repaired and the smoke marks cleaned off.

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