Homeless man among passers-by who saved woman from Launderette fire

Smoke billows from the England's Lane Launderette in Belsize Park

Smoke billows from the England's Lane Launderette in Belsize Park - Credit: @TheWashNW3

Passers-by were able to get a trapped woman to safety even as a fire destroyed the England's Lane Launderette in Belsize. 

Smoke began billowing from the launderette at around 5.40pm yesterday (Wednesday, June 2). 

Witnesses are now hoping to find one of the men who stepped in and helped get a woman who was upstairs to safety. He is thought to be homeless and a familiar sight in Belsize.

Ashish Raja, 44, was another to help out before the emergency services arrived. 

He said: "I was on my way to Regent's Park from Hampstead. Basically I stopped to go to Tesco. I got back into my car and as I was literally next to the launderette heard a woman start to scream 'smoke!'."

London Fire Brigade (LFB) said two men and a woman had been taken to safety before firefighters arrived, and there had been no reports of any injuries.

"I immediately parked the car and started trying to do what I could to control the situation - stopping traffic, finding out if anyone was inside. Someone was, they were upstairs. 

The fire at the England's Lane Launderette started at around 5.30pm on June 2

The fire at the England's Lane Launderette started at around 5.30pm on June 2 - Credit: @TheWashNW3

"Two boys came to help me kick down the door - and as soon as it was open the homeless boy got the woman downstairs. 

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"Within 90 seconds there was a big plume of smoke coming from the top of the building."

Ashish said he felt strongly that the homeless man who had helped "deserves to be cared for". 

He said he thought more people should have tried to help - adding: "At the end of the day, there's a human life upstairs, what else are you going to do? By the time the fire brigade arrived she might have had much worse smoke inhalation, for example."

Ekta Walia lives nearby and saw the smoke. She told this newspaper: "I was literally about to go to the launderette. The police and fire brigade weren't there yet - it was just residents trying to get people out of the houses above. 

"The fire brigade came quickly and sorted it out. Of course there used to be a fire station just along the road...."

Ekta also paid tribute to the homeless man, she said: "He really took a hold of the situation."

A London Fire Brigade (LFB) spokesperson said: "The cause of the fire is believed to have been accidental and caused by self-heating tea towels and chefs uniforms that had been removed from a tumble dryer and placed into a laundry basket. "

The spokesperson warned the public to take care when washing "textiles that become contaminated with oil" adding: “Sometimes when materials are cleaned and put in tumble dryers, the heat from the tumble drying cannot escape. This can result in a high enough temperature allowing it to build up to a point where it smoulders and eventually ignites.

“If you are washing and then drying on a hot cycle, always use the cooling cycle on the tumble dryer so it cools down and allow the heat to dissipate properly, before stacking laundered items together."

They also said it was vital to check smoke alarms on each floor of a building were in working order. 

LFB was called at 5.40pm and and the fire was under control by 7.15pm. 

The England's Lane Launderette - managed by Celia King - was saved last year when a planning application to turn it into a branch of local greengrocers Artichoke.