Pankhurst fire spread within seconds says passer-by who spotted fire

Posted On 14 Oct 2019 at 2:56 pm

A passer-by who watched a fire rip through a block of Brighton flats as he called 999 says it was terrifying how quickly it spread.

The Brighton man was driving past when his young son spotted what was then a small fire on a balcony of the block in Pankhurst Road on Friday, September 20.

Within seconds it had caught the cladding and the family looked on in horror as it spread to the roof and started to engulf the flats.

The father, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “We came up Freshfield Road and as we came off the roundabout, we saw the fire.

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My son spotted it first of all. We could see in the corner of the balcony there was a small fire. It looked like it was a bbq or a patio heater or something.

“We parked at the top of Pankhurst Avenue and when we got through to the fire brigade they asked me to see which floor it was so I got out of the car to get a better look at it.

“By that point it had caught the cladding and was up to the roof. That was in the space of about 60 seconds and as I stood there calling the fire brigade it caught the roof more and more.

“The flat where it started the patio doors were open and the wind was billowing the curtains in and out.

“I went round the other side of the flats to the courtyard and started knocking on the windows and calling all the buzzers.

“Someone else came out who was on the phone to the fire brigade. One guy came out from another door carrying his dinner and I was trying to explain to him there was a fire on the other side.

“By that point it had caught the roof so much that embers were coming over the top and falling in the courtyard. People started coming out of the other blocks.

“There were no fire alarms going off and not a lot of people were coming out. Someone had gone back in to spread the alarm further before the fire brigade came up.

“Everything seemed to take a lot longer than it actually did. It seemed to take a long time for the fire brigade to turn up, but when I looked back at my Google Maps timeline, I hadn’t been there for that long.

“People were coming out and it seemed funny that there were more people coming out from the other block than the one that was on fire.

“You couldn’t see anything at first because the fire was on the other side facing the racecourse.

“It was crazy how quickly it spread and terrifying how quickly it went up. The wind was blowing straight in the block from the north east and it really whipped it up.

“People were really shocked. The guy who came out in the middle of his dinner he said where is it? He was screaming at me, almost angry or in disbelief and I was trying to explain, then he saw there was smoke billowing up over the roof and he raced back inside really quickly.”

Ten fire engines from Brighton, Hove, Roedean, Lewes and Barcombe were sent to the scene after the 999 call at 8.20pm.

Electricity and gas was cut to the surrounding area while firefighters tackled the blaze. It was not until midnight that everyone was officially accounted for but amazingly, nobody was badly hurt.

Residents from both the block which caught fire and the two neighbouring ones, all owned by the Guinness Partnership housing association, are now in temporary accommodation.

Structural engineers are assessing the fire-damaged block to see whether it will need to be demolished.

Those living in other two blocks won’t be able to return until extra fire safety measures have been put in place at the request of the fire service, which is expected to take until the end of the month.

The fire was quickly established as non-suspicious, but an investigation into its cause and spread is likely to take some time.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s business safety manager Andrew Gausden, said: “At this time, there is no timescale to the investigation but it is expected to take a significant period of time.”

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