A Sutton family's Sunday lunch ended in disaster after a scented candle in a teenager's upstairs bedroom sparked a huge blaze, causing £35,000 of damage.
When office worker Kerry Barnes, aged 43, spotted smoke billowing outside, as she dished up roast chicken and beef with all the trimmings, she feared her elderly neighbour was in trouble and raced outside to help.
Realising the smoke was actually coming from her 15-year-old daughter Mia-Carla’s room in their house, her husband, Gavin, 42, who owns an engineering company, went to investigate, while she called the fire brigade and grabbed the garden hose.
Recalling how flames engulfed the bedroom within minutes, Kerry says: “We are so lucky to have got out safely. I dread to think what might’ve happened if the fire had started at night, as we slept.
“We’re getting there as a family but there are a lot of triggers, which bring the trauma back. Every time I see smoke or hear a fire engine, it brings it back.
“Luckily, we had accidental damage cover on our insurance, too, so we were covered and, after what we’ve been through, I want other people to realise how important it is to make sure you’re properly insured.
“Your home is the most important place in the world. It’s where you bring your family up. You have to keep it safe.”
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Kerry had called everyone to the kitchen table and was starting to dish up the usual Sunday roast when she first spotted the thick cloud of smoke outside.
She says: “We have an elderly neighbour, so I thought she may be in trouble. I ran outside, but, looking up, realised the smoke was actually coming from our house.”
Jumping into action, Kerry raised the alarm, racing to fetch the garden hose while Gavin went to discover where the fire was coming from.
She says: “We called the fire brigade and got out of the house - apart from Gavin, who stayed behind to try and control the flames.
“I was outside the front with Mia-Carla just shouting for him. All I wanted was my family safe.
“It had all happened so quickly. Within minutes, her whole bedroom was engulfed.”
A fire crew soon arrived and, using special thermal imaging techniques, spotted that although Gavin had managed to put out most of the flames, the wreckage was still smouldering, so could have reignited at any time.
As they investigated, Kerry faced a tortuous wait to find out what had caused the blaze.
She said: “I had no idea what to think. It had started in Mia-Carla’s bedroom, so I asked her and she said she’d lit a scented candle.
“The fire crew confirmed that is what had started it, but to this day, we aren’t sure exactly how it spread. Maybe a gust of wind blew the flame over onto her desk.
“My poor girl was distraught. I’d had no idea she even had a candle. I don’t like them, so don’t keep them in the house, but it turned out she’d got it as a Christmas present the year before.
“Ironically, that was the first time she decided to light it.”
Some of Mia-Carla's prized possessions - including her laptop, phone, tablet, clothes and sentimental photos - were destroyed and she had to sleep on a mattress in her parents' dressing room for six weeks, while the damage was repaired following the fire in August.
Contacting her insurance company right away, Kerry was relieved to learn she was covered - especially when the damage, which included replacing the shattered bedroom windows, the bedroom floor, possessions and repairing smoke damage to her daughter's room and the upstairs hallway, cost about £35,000.
Kerry says: “I really felt for my daughter. She lost everything. She's really into fashion, so losing her clothes was awful, but there were loads of sentimental things you can’t get back either, like photos.
“I had panicked and worried the insurance company would find a loophole and not pay. You read all these horror stories about people being left with huge bills, but thankfully, it was all sorted fairly quickly.”
Now, speaking out ahead of National Conversation Week 2019, which runs from March 18-24 and encourages people to talk about their finances, Kerry is urging people to both be vigilant about fire safety and to ensure they have proper insurance coverage.
She says: “We all have car and travel insurance, but it worries me how many people forget about home, or don’t have accidental damage cover.
“I also want to urge people not to leave candles unattended, even for a few minutes. I’d no idea we even had one in the house, and look at the damage it caused.
“Mia-Carla is thankfully back in her room now, and we are getting there with putting it behind us.
“It replays a lot in my mind but I do feel very lucky that we got out safely.”
For information, visit nationalconversationweek.co.uk