Sunday 20 May 2018

My Bedroom Caught Fire


Two years ago on the 20th May, my student bedroom caught fire.

I've been debating for a while whether to write a post or do a video about it. Some of you might recall in some Twitter chats that I wanted to post something but felt too afraid. Well, this is it. My deep dark secret that still haunts me to this day.

I talked to those close to me about posting this and no one had anything negative to say, I don't know why I've been so self-conscious about it. Maybe because it's quite personal and it's been nice that not everyone knows what happened.

On the 19th May (the day before) it was my Granny's funeral, I had been devasted and in mourning the few weeks after her death.

The Day Of

At 9am I had my hour counselling session on a Friday morning (for those that don't know I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression) it went really well and I actually left feeling uplifted and good about myself. This might've been a sign that I wasn't actually ok.

I went back to my student house and I was sorting through and clearing out my things, as I'd decided to move back home early due to my mental health and loss of my Granny. I cleaned our kitchen and opened all of the windows to freshen up the whole house as it could get a bit stuffy in there. I was actually feeling really good like I had a fresh start and my mind was clear.

Earlier that morning I had lit three candles in my room as I liked to light scented candles on a regular basis.

I chatted to one of my housemates for a while then when she left I carried on tidying my room, I had to move my clothes horse/drier out of the way so I could get to the other side of my room. I began sorting stuff on my desk when in the corner of my eye I could see a sparkly kind of light. When I looked to my left, my clothes horse was on fire. Molten bits of clothes dripping onto the floor, I tried to stamp out the embers.

I stepped back in shock trying to find something to cover it and put it out but there was nothing near me as I watched the flames get higher and higher. I screamed for my housemates calling their names and shouting FIRE. I've never heard myself screech so loudly. They came rushing up and said to grab my phone and leave. As we were leaving I tried to call 999, I was in a panic and couldn't remember where I lived. When we were outside I was flapping in frustration and anxiety as my room was filled with smoke. I was lucky that the fire station was only around the corner from us.

As the fire engines came my housemates made sure to get our neighbours out of their homes. I couldn't believe what actually happened. It must've been a bad dream. Crowds began to gather watching all of my belongings burn, I had people coming up to me asking what happened out of sheer nosiness, they didn't actually care. I didn't want to talk to any of them.

This is me in the left hand corner. In hysterics.

I didn't know what to do, where to go. I would sit on the floor opposite my house with my head in my hands trying to figure out what went wrong and trying to catch up with the present. I couldn't sit still, I wanted to do something that wasn't just watching my life burst into flames.

My phone only had 4% battery, I sent my parents and my boyfriend a text:

"My room caught alight I'm fine and fire ambulance here"

My Dad was in the area and called me straight away as I cried hysterically explaining what had happened. By the time he came they had cordoned off the area around my house, there were three fire engines putting out my room. Firemen and women checked that we were all out and who was present and to get details of what happened.

Which was that I had a tea light in a candle holder on a table in my room, and I placed my clothes horse with lots of clothes on, on top of said candle. Within seconds the whole thing was on alight.

A couple of the firefighters approached me as I was the only one who'd been in the room for quite a while whilst it was on fire, they asked if I had any medical conditions. I thought I'd let them know that I suffer from high anxiety levels as I wasn't sure if I was going to have a panic attack or not. They asked if I wanted to be checked over, I looked over to my Dad and he nodded, I suppose he wanted to make sure I hadn't been harmed and just to check I was ok. They checked my heart rate which I think was way over 100 beats per minute, which wasn't a surprise. They gave me oxygen therapy to help bring my heart rate down.

By this point my Mum had come as well, I can't imagine what I state I must've looked. Their daughter being treated in the middle of the street. I'm very glad that I didn't move too far away from home so my parents could be there for me.

Some paramedics arrived and they did some further tests on me. I had never been in an ambulance before, the two guys were lovely and chatty. I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to act anymore. My heart rate had been brought down, but I was still dealing with what had happened. A firewoman brought over to me the remains of my MacBook in some sort of evidence bag, in case I could get anything off of the hard drive. Fortunately, I had handed in all of my university assignments, I was just more concerned that I wouldn't have a laptop at all, it went everywhere with me. I'd taken it to Boston, America and even Paris! When we took apart my Mac the hard drive had completely melted.

There used to be a protective blue case on the outside, I think it protected some of the metal outsides.

That black stuff is the remainder of my bag that my Mac was in on my bed.

Once the paramedics said that there shouldn't be any damage to me from the smoke I was free to go back outside. It had been nice to not look at my charred window for a while, a bit like an escape.

When I left the ambulance my other housemate had returned, and I felt really awkward. Some of the edginess of my anxiety had been taken off, which left me feeling rather empty and unsure of what to actually do in this situation: I had accidentally set my room alight, of which may have caused damage to my housemate's rooms as well. In most situations, I'm a bit quiet and socially awkward anyway, and this was heightened tenfold because it was something I feel couldn't have been helped, I didn't mean to burn all of my possessions in my room.

My belongings in the foyer.
I remember looking at my singed items that had been thrown into the foyer outside our house, and my DVD's where there, some of the discs still salvageable. I started to joke about watching said singed discs, which of course wasn't the right thing to do or say but I was still in shock even though I'd been given oxygen etc it wasn't making me act or think clearly.

We weren't allowed into the house as it might have been unstable, so I had no idea what the house looked like, how much damage there was or what might've survived. At the time I didn't want to look, I'd seen the outside and was dreading the inside. As there wasn't anything I could do, my Mum took me home to have a shower and get changed as I stank of smoke and only had a jumper, PJ bottoms and socks on.

I felt as though I had nothing, all I had was the clothes on my back and my dead phone on me. Even though I had some belongings at my mum's I'd say three-quarters of my stuff was in my student house. I kept running through that afternoon, what I could've done differently, what I should have grabbed on my way out. But there's no use, you can't change the past.

If my housemates hadn't been home, I'm not sure how long it'd have taken me to leave the house. I was stuck in that one spot panicking. The only reason I left was that my housemate told me to leave and that released me from that spot. I also might've gone back into the house to try and save some belongings whilst it was on fire. Fortunately, I did not, but I was very close. I knew how much I was losing, the longer I saw it spread and break my bedroom window.

I would not wish this upon anyone.

I was lucky that no one got hurt, it didn't affect any of the houses surrounding us. But it did spread through the house because I had opened the windows and didn't close my door behind me as we were more or less running outside, and I wasn't thinking straight. I'm not an expert but I think if I had shut my door the fire would've spread into the roof more and could've set the other houses roofs alight also. But I can't be sure.

The Aftermath

I was on edge and became really jumpy after the fire, I was still in a state of shock and wanted this all to be a bad dream and to wake up. Over the weekend I kept having nightmares about the fire and the things that I'd lost, I started to worry about electrical fires and kept thinking that I could smell smoke all the time. I decided that I needed to go back to the house to see what was left to try and prevent my nightmares. I was dreaming about my letters and notes that my Granny had written for me in the few months before she passed away. I had put them in my diary and carried them with me everywhere as I held them close to my heart.

I had to arrange with my landlord about going to the house as my keys (student house, my mum's and my work keys) had perished in the fire as well as all of my ID, bank cards and passport.

I was not prepared for what I saw when I entered the house.

This is what I saw first, black smoke that's stained the ceiling and walls as it was put out by the firefighters.

This was our upstairs bathroom.

This is upstairs facing towards my room which you can't see at all.
It was really eerie to see what the fire had touched and to have seen its path through the upstairs of the house. But I was on a mission to search for the things I wanted most: my keys, purse, passport, my letters from my Granny, and a Celtic pin my great aunt gave me.

There used to be three shelves on the left side with all of my books and DVD's, and one candle was there. On the right side was a rail for my clothes and a set of drawers underneath.

They had to board up the windows, which made it quite dark in my room and we had to use torches to search through some of the rubble. In front of the window was where the table was with the candle and the clothes horse.

You can kind of make out some of my belongings but they've all more or less melted together.

My desk used to be against the far wall, with a notice board with pictures on it. That was where I was standing when I saw my clothes horse covered in flames.
It was really horrible having to dig through the remains on my floor to try and find anything that I could use and take home. I was getting more and more upset the longer that I couldn't find what I wanted. After sifting through what might have been some of my ceiling, I found my diary. It was quite scorched, but somehow my Granny's letters were just about saved in between the hardback cover. I nearly burst into tears at how happy I felt to have found them, they are priceless to me. I also found my purse but more of less everything was useless, my ID was burnt around the edges but I was able to use it whilst I waited for a replacement. Somehow, my great aunt's pin that was tucked away in my purse for good luck had just about survived. Again, it's another priceless possession and I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have found the pin and the letters!

In the photo above you'll see me finding some photos one of my close friends gave me for my 20th birthday, it was one of my favourite presents as she chose three photos from over the years. She'd handwritten "Happy 20th Birthday Saffron" in different coloured pens and used to be situated above my desk. By this point I was a bit annoyed at the amount of stuff that wasn't worth taking home as things had holes in, stank of smoke was charred or stuck to other objects, I put it back where I found it. But my boyfriend; Connor picked it back up and reprinted the photos exactly the same, cut out the handwritten message and re-framed it for me. That was such a lovely gesture, as I loved looking at that photo frame every day, and he made that happen for me again.

Here is the candle holder which had the main candle which started the fire. I was really surprised to see it around the area it started in. A lot of people didn't believe me when I told them it was just a tea light that started this. But actually candles are a huge fire hazard and there's a lot of house fires each year (I know this because I searched the internet to find out how common it was).

My main purpose of this post is to make others aware of house fires, especially the use of candles. I had been using candles since I was in my early teens and had usually been careful. A few times I would fall asleep whilst having candles lit (which is bad, don't do it!) but I had at times been reckless if I put them near a lot of objects as I can tend to be a messy person. This was why I lost so much, there were a lot of accelerants in my room: clothes everywhere, perfume bottles, igniter fluid for lighters and my bedding was nearby.

Even though two years have passed I'm still not over the fire. I've gotten better as I'm less jumpy and less on edge. I've been in some situations where fire alarms have gone off and it's caused a panic attack, but it's a learning curve. I'm never going to be the same as before the fire, it was a huge set back with my mental health. I still sometimes think I can smell smoke and have to check the whole house is ok. It feels as though a piece of me died that day. It took me a while to feel like me again.

Sometimes I'll wake up in the middle of the night as a huge warm wave passes over my face as though flames were in the room.

I don't use candles at all anymore. It's kind of sad but it makes me feel better and safer, my parents use candles but I won't light them or touch them. I've thought about using them again, but I'm still not ready.

All I can say is that I am thankful no one got hurt, it could have gone a lot of different ways as I've played out a few in my head. The firemen and women, and paramedics were lovely and really helpful, I didn't get to find out their names but I did thank them.

It's hard that I sometimes have to go past my old house, but it's unrecognisable now.

I hope that this post will help someone out there to not have to go through what I have, it's not only affected me but my old housemates, my landlord, my parents and friends. There's a ripple effect with these kinds of traumatic events, and I doubt it'll ever leave me.

Stay safe,

Love Saffron x


  1. Saffron,
    This took alot of strength to write this let alone press publish. I am so glad that you managed to get some of your possessions that meant so very much to you. I do hope in time you can heal a bit more. It's got yo be hard and i hope you are getting plenty of support with your anxiety and with the aftermath of it all. Much love and I'm so sorry you've had to go through this. Stay strong girly xxx

    1. Thank you so much for you comment, it means a lot ❤️xxx

  2. I had no idea you had been through such a traumatic experience. Apart from the knowledge that you could easily have died, I cannot imagine anything quite so disrupting and upsetting as losing all your stuff like that. It is surprising how little damage fire can do to a book, even when it is charred all over the outside. You were lucky and I am so glad you were able to recover your Grannies stuff. I am also glad you don't use candles anymore and I hope you will continue not using them. Apart from the obvious fire risk, I cannot imagine that inhaling smoke particles can be in any way healthy as suggested by aromatherapy candle. I hope you are able to put the experience behind you and come to terms with it. Life throws all kinds of horrible things at us and you need to be able to shrug them off and move on. Be strong.

    1. Thank you Pete, yes it's so much easier to avoid another fire by not using candles. I imagine when I have children I won't be promoting the use of candles to them either.


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