Roof workers set fire to three houses
WHEN Heather Phelps left builders working on her house, she hoped to come back to find the problem had been sorted.
But a builder tasked with repairing her leaking gutter ended up accidentally setting fire to the roof – and those of two properties either side.
Witnesses said they saw a workman sent by Merlin Housing Society using hot bitumen and a blow torch as he relined the concrete guttering.
The next thing the shocked onlookers knew, the roof felt was aflame and the fire quickly spread to the adjoining three-bedroom houses on Mill Crescent, Westerleigh.
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Merlin Housing is now investigating whether the subcontractors were following the correct health and safety procedures.
Miss Phelps had been living at Number 4 for 19 years, with son Louis, 18, and partner Chris Harding, who had recently moved in.
But the fire gutted the house, their possessions have been destroyed and they will have to be re-homed.
The 44-year-old had been out shopping with her mum last Friday lunchtime when she got the call from next-door neighbour Belinda Standbridge urging her to get home.
"When I got back and saw what was happening I ran down the street screaming, with my mum in her wheelchair," she said.
"By the time I got to my house there was nothing left. I've lost everything. "I'm still in shock about what's happened."
Over the weekend the couple stayed at Mr Harding's parents in Peasedown St John and now Merlin is looking into new accommodation.
But the couple have complained that the housing association has been slow to react, failed to come out over the weekend and the couple have had to do most of the "chasing".
Miss Standbridge's house at Number 2 was also badly damaged. She shares it with her children Josh, 21; Georgia, 18; Jacob, 15; and Noah, 13, and springer spaniel Beanie.
Miss Standbridge, 45, said: "I was in bed asleep for 20 minutes once the fire started. The smoke alarms didn't go off. The fire brigade said the batteries were low and they were also faulty.
"Luckily my neighbour Ashling saw what was happening, found my daughter and she woke me up just in time. Our loft has been destroyed and I've lost a lot of family possessions. The rest of the house is badly smoke-damaged."
The third house – now unliveable – is owned by an elderly woman who lives there with her son.
The Post understands none of the affected residents had contents' insurance, but they will be able to claim for their losses through the contractor's insurance.
Avon Fire and Rescue spokesman Darren Bane said: "We're satisfied that this is an accidental ignition, started by builders working on the roof."
A Merlin spokesman said: "Our understanding is that a sub-contractor of ours was carrying out repairs to the guttering of 4 Mill Crescent when the fire started and spread to Number 6. We have launched a full investigation to determine whether the correct procedures were being followed.
"We have been working with the residents from numbers 4 and 6 Mill Crescent to help them in the aftermath of the fire. Staff visited and spoke with them on Friday afternoon, when we offered to pay for them to stay in a hotel for the weekend. We were in contact with them again on Monday and Tuesday this week to help find them suitable alternative accommodation that meets their needs and some short-term compensation to allow them to buy food and clothes.
"All of our properties are fitted with smoke detectors, but we ask residents to check them every month to make sure they are working properly. We fitted new, mains-wired, battery backed-up smoke detectors to Number 2 Mill Crescent when we rewired the property in 2010 and tested them in June this year as part of an annual heating inspection, when they were working properly."