accessibility & help

'I watched my home go up in flames'

After Michelle Telford fled her burning Essex home with five children, a grandchild and her dogs in tow, she had no idea what to do next – then the British Red Cross turned up. Here’s her story.

1. The fire

We were having breakfast in our pyjamas one Saturday morning when the electricity suddenly went off.

Then my eldest daughter called from upstairs that the plug behind my son’s bed was on fire. I hurried upstairs, saw the flames and thought: Oh, god!

While my daughter called the fire brigade, I got two of my little ones out of the bath, picked up my grandchild then took everyone outside. My 13-year-old son has special needs, and was so shocked that he just walked straight outside in his pyjamas.

I put my dogs on leads and placed the two youngest children in the car, as I couldn’t think what else to do with them. Then we were all outside, just watching.

It was awful to see the black smoke billowing out of our house, and thinking about all the damage being done. By the time the fire brigade arrived, the upstairs was completely destroyed.

Nothing was left. All I had was the nightie and slippers I was wearing.

2. The response

The Red Cross’ fire and emergency support volunteers – Jackie and Pauline – arrived quickly, and they were lovely: really nice.

They invited us onto their vehicle, sat us all down and immediately made me a cup of tea. I started to think maybe things weren’t going to be as bad as I thought.

Then they really got busy. They gave us spare clothes to wear, handed out drinks to the children and started ringing around to find somewhere for the dogs to go.

They also found a B&B where we could stay for the weekend while longer-term accommodation was found.

I was so grateful because I wasn’t in a position to start doing any of that myself – I had no internet, my phone was dead and I couldn’t even think straight.

As I started to calm down, I realised I hadn’t cleaned my teeth – so the volunteers brought out a wash kit with a toothbrush. That alone was marvellous. All my stuff was burnt and I just wanted to do something normal.

They stayed for a good couple of hours until they knew we had somewhere to stay, and left me a list with some really useful contact numbers.

One of the volunteers was missing her grandson’s birthday party, and I tried to get her to go, but she refused to leave until everything was sorted!

3. The aftermath

The upstairs of our house had to be gutted and there was water damage downstairs, so we were in temporary digs for a while.

Now we’re back at home, and I’m so grateful to the Red Cross volunteers.

Without them, I wouldn’t have had anybody to rely on and I’m not sure what I’d have done. You just don’t ever expect to be in a situation like this.

I didn’t even know the fire and emergency support service existed before all this happened, but it’s a marvellous thing. In fact, I’m now keen to find out more about becoming a volunteer myself.

Since I know exactly what it’s like to lose your home in a fire, I’d like to help other people deal with what I’ve been through.

Learn more about our fire and emergency support service.

Want to help? Become a FES volunteer.

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