Inquiry launched into blaze which forced family to flee

The scene of the fire at Curlew Gardens.     Picture: Malcolm Wells (0000-1164)
The scene of the fire at Curlew Gardens. Picture: Malcolm Wells (0000-1164)

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A PAINSTAKING investigation has begun into the cause of a blaze which forced a family of four to flee their home.

Alan and Sarah Ackers and their daughters Charlotte, seven, and one-year-old Ella, were stranded on a roof after clambering out of a bedroom window of their terraced house in Curlew Gardens, Wecock as fire raged inside.

The mum and dad frantically shouted for help as the flames spread and smoke poured out of their home.

Neighbours were woken by the shouting at about 1am yesterday and ran out in their pyjamas to help the family, who were standing 10ft above the ground on their front-door porch.

Charlotte jumped into the arms of neighbour Cliff Mudkins, 26, while the next-door neighbour managed to reach out of her bathroom window and stretch to lift baby Ella to safety.

Mr Mudkin’s wife Nicola, 24, said: ‘Alan was shouting “My house is on fire”.

‘There was smoke billowing out of the front door.

‘The idea was to throw the baby off the roof, but the lady next door opened her bathroom window and the baby went through the bathroom window. My husband got the girl down.

‘I was just shouting “get off the roof, it’s going to blow” because the gas flume is there.’

Lucy Betsworth, 14, who lives several doors away, heard the shouting from her bedroom window.

She alerted her dad David, who grabbed some stepladders from his house to rescue 41-year-old Mr Ackers and 37-year-old Mrs Ackers, both still stranded on the roof.

Mr Betsworth said: ‘I am more awake than most people at that time in the morning as I work night shifts.

‘I laid the ladder up against the side of the building, but it was not really high enough.

‘I had to try and coax them down.

‘They were both in such a state of shock and were not really listening.’

Mr and Mrs Ackers eventually managed to climb off the roof and down the stepladder.

The distraught family stayed at Mr Betsworth’s house as a team of 40 firefighters battled the blaze, which tore through the house and caused the roof to collapse.

Mr Betsworth said: ‘Their faces were black from all the smoke.’

The Ackers’ dog, an English Boxer called Harvey, also made it out alive.

The Ackers were later taken by ambulance to Queen Alexandra Hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation.

The family were not available to speak to The News yesterday as it is believed they are staying with relatives in London.

The house was destroyed by the blaze.

Mrs Mudkins, who enjoyed summer barbecues with the family, said: ‘It’s been totally traumatic.

‘The family will be totally devastated.

‘They have lost absolutely everything. Everything they ever had has gone.

‘They have not got insurance to cover it.’

The fire has left the close-knit community in shock.

The blaze did not spread to the adjacent terraces, but they have been left with smoke damage and some windows also exploded.

Neighbour Jenny Bowdery, 39, said: ‘It was really quite scary and I would not wish it on anyone.’

Paul Jenson, 67, said: ‘It was scary to see how something can go up so quickly.’

Mr Betsworth said neighbours did not feel like heroes for saving the family.

‘I just wanted them to get down from there safely,’ he said.

An arson task force, together with police detectives, yesterday began the inquiry by examining the house and talking to neighbours and witnesses.

A detailed examination of the charred remains of the home will start today after the property has been made structurally safe.

It follows a huge effort by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service to stop the fire spreading to the other terraces in the block.

Firefighters worked for two hours to put out the blaze using an aerial platform, showering the blaze with water from above.

Two engines from Waterlooville, one from Horndean and three appliances from Cosham went to the scene.

Paul Coates, the officer in charge, said: ‘The initial crews were faced with a very serious fire and flames coming out of the roof of the third house along a row of seven terraced properties.

‘They did a sterling job in tackling the fire and stopping it from spreading to the adjoining properties and firefighters were also dispatched to work on the neighbouring buildings where the roof spaces were starting to smoke.

‘This would have no doubt been a much more serious incident had it not been for everyone’s hard work.’

Neighbours said they understood the blaze had started in a bedroom, but fire investigators said they were keeping an open mind.