accessibility & help

"I just stood there watching my house burn"

We helped the Dawes family after their house caught fire. Their neighbours were so impressed by our volunteers they've even raised money to help fund our work.

Caroline and Graham Dawes were at home in Bristol celebrating their son’s twenty-third birthday when they heard a sound upstairs and smelled smoke.

They went to investigate and found thick smoke on the whole of the first floor.

At first they thought they might be able to put out the flames on their own. But they quickly realised the fire was too big and got out of the house.

They shouted down to their son Ollie and daughter Roxanna, grabbed their pet rabbit and gathered with their neighbours on the street outside.

Out on the street

Neighbour Julia Brooks, says: “There were lots of us out on the street and all we could do was watch. There was smoke coming out of all the windows. All of a sudden there was a rumble and flames shot up through the roof.”

“We were all out on the street and we were screaming,” says Caroline. “I just stood there watching my house burn.”

Soon the emergency services arrived to tackle the fire. 

The Dawes family and the neighbours who had rushed to their aid were checked by paramedics. Ollie was taken to hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

Sanctuary in a crisis

Overwhelmed by everything that was going on, Caroline was incredibly grateful when our fire and emergency support volunteers turned up to help.

While the emergency services got on with their jobs, Red Cross volunteers Abbie, Dave and Lesley looked after the Dawes family.

They found clothing for Roxanna who had left the house wearing only her pyjamas and dressing gown. And they reassured the family that what they were feeling was quite normal, helping them stay calm.

Caroline says: “I remember one point where they just said to me to come into the van for five minutes and have a drink. I remember sitting there with a hot chocolate and it was so nice to have that sanctuary.”

“They stayed with us well into the evening and at the end of it we hugged them. It was like we had become friends.”

Caroline’s husband, Graham, adds: “The Red Cross were fantastic. They took us under their wing and were really, really nice. They gave us clothes and support and then, when we went back into the house with the fire brigade after the fire was out, Dave came in with me. He was just like a family member really.”

Incredible community support

Caroline was blown away by the support she got from friends and neighbours on the day. She says: “I don’t think there are words to say thank you. I’ll never be able to thank everyone for their help.”

Volunteer Abbie recalls: “It was amazing to be able to help the Dawes family that night and to see the fantastic support they received from their community. There was such a big community reaction. Everyone wanted to do something to help.”

After the fire the Dawes family spent five weeks in a hotel but often went back to their street. Friends and neighbours took it in turns to cook dinner for them and wash their clothes.

And the generosity of their community didn’t stop there. The Dawes’ neighbours were so impressed by actions of the Red Cross volunteers that they have raised more than £300 to help us continue our vital work.  

  • Interested in joining the fire and emergency support team? Call Joanne Riches, support in emergencies coordinator on 01793 859933, or email

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