Family scared to go home after fire leaves large hole

Laura Sumner with her daughter Alexia in her home which has a hole in the wall from a fire
Laura Sumner with her daughter Alexia in her home which has a hole in the wall from a fire

WHEN fire tore through the fifth-storey home of a young Whitby family, leaving a large hole in an exterior wall, they never imagined that, just a week later, they would be told they could either return – or become homeless.

Laura Sumner, of Havelock Place on the West Cliff, said: “We would normally have been in bed asleep but we had friends round and we could smell burning.

“We thought it was incense sticks from downstairs but then the room filled up with smoke.

“Our first instinct was to get the baby out and call the fire brigade, who were here in minutes. The fire alarm didn’t go off until later, so the fire brigade said that if we had actually been asleep then we could have died.”

The unexplained fire had started in a walled-off old emergency escape, beside the lounge of Miss Sumner’s flat, and so to get to it the fire crew was forced to remove a large portion of the wall.

The hole was covered up the following day by a flimsy-looking wooden board, but despite this and severe fire damage, an Environment Agency inspection declared that the flat was safe to live in.

A valid tenancy agreement and a home declared safe means there is no possibility of the young family being rehoused.

The family includes a six-month-old baby named Alexia and Miss Sumner said she is stunned that they have received no assistance from the authorities.

“They said the worst we will get is a common cold, so because the damage isn’t life-threatening they won’t re-house us.

“It’s five floors up and we have a six-month-old baby, who’s going to start crawling soon.

“If she’s crawling and rolling about, it’s coming up to winter and with the winds you get off the sea, if the board blows off through the night leaving the hole exposed, then it doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Until the hole in the wall is fixed, which the landlord estimates will take months, the family is staying with a relative.

Miss Sumner added that she has contacted Whitby MP Robert Goodwill, who has asked for the property to be reassessed.