'There was banging outside and smoke all over the place': East Finchley fire evacuees relive terrifying night
PUBLISHED: 13:24 22 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:24 22 November 2018
Families left homeless by the fire that destroyed the upper floors of Willow House in East Finchley on November 7 have spoken of the midnight terror of fleeing their burning homes.
As the GoFundMe crowdfunding page set up to help provide immediate assistance passes £6,000, smashing its target of £5,000, the Ham&High heard from some of those displaced by the flames about the horrors of a fortnight ago.
Sahr Kamanda, who lives in Willow House with his wife and three children, told the Ham&High: “It was terrifying. We were in a deep sleep. It was just before midnight and my wife woke me up.
“There was banging outside and smoke all over the place – we didn’t know anything about what was going on.”
Speaking from the Travelodge in Whetstone where many families have been temporarily housed, Sahr, 63, added he was concerned about the fire’s effect on his children.
He said: “They’re disturbed by it. They hardly know what’s happened. They’ve just been going back to school and they need someone to talk to about it.
“So many things happen whether we like it or not. It’s this fire, or you lose members of family, and in the end all you can expect is for people to do their best to help you with the situation. That’s all we are asking.”
A young woman who is a private tenant on the top floor of the East Finchley block said: “It was the perfect place for me.
“It had taken me a long time to find somewhere I felt comfortable, and now I have to look again.”
Another resident, who also declined to be named, said: “I’ve lived there since 1983. We want to return there. East Finchley is where our community is.”
In the days following the fire, the families concerned felt “like ants to be squashed” by Barnet Council and Barnet Homes. Since then though, a statement given to this newspaper explained that the institutional response to the fire had markedly improved.
At the time of writing, a number of those temporarily housed in the Whetstone Travelodge have been moved to medium-term accommodation.
Last week the families also praised the community response to the disaster, with the church@5, the Grange Big Local, Community Barnet and local councillors Alison Moore and Arjun Mittra singled out for praise.
A Barnet Homes spokesperson said today: “We are working closely with our council tenants affected by the fire at Willow House and have found them alternative accommodation, whilst we continue to find local longer-term options for them.
“Our council tenants retain the right to return to Willow House once the building is repaired and habitable again. Resident leaseholders are being supported by Barnet Homes and the insurers to source suitable replacement accommodation.
“We are also supporting the private tenants to find appropriate accommodation. We are finding that due to the nature of the shared facility accommodation they are looking for, the best way to support them continues to be through assistance with deposits.”
To donate to the fund, see the crowdfunder here, or contact Claire Meade with a request to provide needed items at firstname.lastname@example.org