There was a sense of community spirit in Hailsham this morning, as residents went back to see the fire-damaged block of flats in the town.
Last night (October 9), a fire ripped through a top-floor flat on The Diplocks, after a lightning strike.
Several other flats had water and smoke damage, and the block was evacuated last night as a result of the fire.
Residents were evacuated and many stayed in a nearby Travelodge, or with friends.
There was a meeting this morning in Diplocks Hall, for residents effected by the fire.
A passerby, said, “The community spirit was absolutely fantastic last night. The emergency services were absolutely brilliant.”
Some residents will be able to move back next week, but others have lost everything, and don’t know when they will return home.
The top floor flat was the worst hit, with the roof ripped off, and much of the flat destroyed.
Neil Moors, 40, and his wife Clare, 29, live in a neighbouring flat with their nine-year-old daughter.
The pair said they lived in the flat which was struck by lightning in the past, but had done a house swap with the current tenant.
“I was sitting down with my friend and there was a great bang,” said Neil. “I thought nothing of it.
“Then there was knocking on my door, saying we’ve got to get out.
“You just think about getting out really. Making sure my daughter was alright. She was petrified.
“All she was worried about was getting her cat out. It is so surreal when it happens
“It just happened so quick.
“You think that could be us. We did a house swap. She’s lost everything. That could have been me and my daughter in there.”
He said he believed the damaged area would be rebuilt, but did not know how long it would take.
This morning, the block of flats was taped off by the fire service and police, as fire officers assessed the damage.
Watch commander at Hailsham fire station, Simon Peel, said, “We got alerted at 7.19pm. That came through as a smell of smoke.
“When we pulled up at the scene the majority of the residents had evacuated.
“I could see the top floor was alight and it just started to breach through the roof. The roof was becoming unstable.
“As soon as we got to this point I called four fire engines.”
He said they later called another two engines in, as someone was reported missing, but it turned out they were out.
He said around 30 to 35 firefighters were on the scene.
Firefighters entered the property wearing breathing apparatus and tackled the blaze using three main jets, two hose reel jets, two foam jets and a thermal imaging camera was used to locate casualties inside the building. An aerial ladder platform was also used to tackle the fire.
Crews remained at the incident throughout the night damping down and checking for any hotspots
Everyone was safely evacuated from the block of flats and the incident was scaled down just before midnight. Crews remained at the scene until 8.06am this morning. A full fire investigation got underway this morning.
Incident commander Mark Hobbs said: “The crews did a fantastic job preventing the fire spreading throughout the roof space, as the flames were being fanned by strong winds into adjoining properties.
“Firefighters assisted in ensuring that approximately 30 people were led to safety and residents were temporarily given shelter in the village hall for the first few hours.
“Whilst the risk of being struck by lightning is extremely rare East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service consistently attends a number of lightning-related incidents. Steps should be taken to protect your family, your home and business in case of a lightning strike and relevant safety information can be found within our Black Museum web pages.
“Sadly, often we have been to incidents where residents are under-insured, or not insured, and invariably residents can lose everything.”
Residents have set up a Facebook page for people to donate clothes and household items to residents who have lost their belongings to the fire here.
Sarah Louise Savill, who set up the page, said, “I would hope someone would do that for me if I lost everything in a fire.
“I would be distraught.”
She said hundreds of people had joined the page offering to help, and Lifeline Community Support, PJ Skips and Tesco had also offered to donate items and help residents of the flat block.
The one thing they haven’t got is somewhere to store the donations, and hoped a storage company in the area would come forward to help.
Sarah can be contacted through the Facebook page.