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Swiss Cottage fire: Mother’s terrifying escape from ‘towering inferno’

PUBLISHED: 13:15 20 January 2012

A man is stretchered from the scene by firefighters. Picture: Lee Massey

A man is stretchered from the scene by firefighters. Picture: Lee Massey

Archant

Shocked residents have described the terrifying moment they were forced to flee their homes as a fire tore through their flats creating a “towering inferno”.

Some 130 people poured out of Taplow block on Monday night (January 16) as a blaze, believed to have started when papers caught fire on a candle, erupted on the 17th floor.

Residents, many wearing pyjamas, sheltered in the Swiss Cottage Community Centre nearby in Adelaide Road.

Samantha Aldridge grabbed her 14-month-old daughter Eloise and covered her in a blanket as she ran through smoke-filled corridors from the 13th floor.

“There were people screaming out of the window and burning ash falling everywhere,” said the 21-year-old.

“People were running down the backstairs, everyone was in a panic. It was scary.

“When we got out, we could see the fire as we looked up and hear glass smash as the window fell.”

Smoke could be seen billowing from the 22-storey block miles away in Chalk Farm and the smell spread as far as West Hampstead, yet no one was hurt.

Shards of glass and balls of burning ash sprayed out of open windows onto the front lawn as people streamed out of the flats.

Residents across the road also stuck posters in their windows warning “There is a fire – get out!” as they desperately tried to alert families inside to evacuate.

Unconfirmed reports suggested the man who lived in the flat where the fire broke out had started using candles after his electricity had cut off.

A smoke alarm in the flat is thought to have been disconnected.

Anthony Young, 44, who lives on the 14th floor, said: “The flames were streaming out of the building and the smoke was billowing out, it looked like the towering inferno.

“There were hundreds of us in the community centre. It was chaos. Everybody was worried about their flats or that someone would get hurt.”

The father-of-two, who has lived there for 15 years, said: “I suffer from depression and this has made it worse. I just want out of here. If a fire happens in there again we may not be so lucky.”

Vicki Kelly, office manager of the Swiss Cottage Community Centre, gave around 200 residents cups of tea and a place to shelter as fire crews tackled the blaze through the night.

She said: “The support was really nice. One of the gentleman I was talking to said he had met and spoken to neighbours he had never met before.

“Although it is a disaster, it did bring people together.”

The next morning, piles of charred belongings were left outside by workmen as the residents returned to their homes.

Kentish Town Fire Station manager Rod Horton said: “There were a huge amount of papers, magazines and books stored in the flat.

“People should try to avoid storing large amounts of this sort of material as it increases the chances of having a fire and intensifies the spread.”

On Sunday (January 15) at 7.15pm firefighters were called to another domestic fire at the flat of a single woman in Camden Square, Camden Town, who was treated for shock and smoke inhalation.

It is thought that an electrical fault caused the blaze in the flat near to the late Amy Winehouse’s home.

Camden Council, which owns the property, is investigating claims that none of the flats had smoke alarms.

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