Heartbroken Sidmouth pensioner's home left toxic by fire

PUBLISHED: 16:59 06 June 2009 | UPDATED: 09:20 18 June 2010

A HEARTBROKEN Witheby pensioner has spoken of her despair after a bedroom fire on Tuesday wrecked her family home of 40 years.

A HEARTBROKEN Witheby pensioner has spoken of her despair after a bedroom fire on Tuesday wrecked her family home of 40 years.

Sylvia Gibbard, 70, and husband Roy, 80, face months out of the townhouse after toxic smoke from double-glazed windows filled their home as the fire raged, contaminating all of their belongings.

Firefighters donned breathing apparatus and tackled the blaze on Tuesday afternoon, keeping it contained to the bedroom.

It is believed that sun reflecting through a magnifying glass on a light which Roy, who is registered blind, uses to read caused the fire. The lamp wasn't plugged in.

Sylvia and Roy had just forked out on having their balcony and garage door redecorated.

A shell shocked Sylvia, who escaped the house with Roy after being alerted to the fire by an "explosion" upstairs, told the Herald : "The whole house has to be gutted. Every possible item has got to be taken out because of the toxic smoke and fumes".

"The fire brigade contained the flames but everything is written off or will have to be restored.

"I've lost my whole wardrobe and have no clothes, even my stamp albums will have to be taken away.

"We can't live there because it's toxic and are certain to be out for three months. We're staying at a neighbour's who is on holiday, but can't stay here forever- We have to look for somewhere to live.

"A loss adjuster will to cart everything out and it all has to be treated. The whole place will have to be re-decorated, re-painted and re-carpeted.

The fire brigade said if I hadn't closed the bedroom door the whole top floor would have been gutted by the flames."

Sylvia, who is well known in Sidmouth as a driving force behind Witheby's award-winning, tourist attracting, 'secret garden', said the predicament was "unbelievable".

She said: "There's stuff in there that goes back 40 years- things from my parents which all needs to be taken out and cleaned. We don't know yet what can be salvaged.

"Our neighbours have been wonderful- I'm still just trying to get my head round it."

Sidmouth Fire Service crew commander Stuart Collings said of the cause of the blaze: "Its unusual but it happens".

He urged residents to be aware of the fire risk posed by magnifying glasses, especially in the summer months, and highlighted the importance of residents having working fire alarms in their homes.


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