Arson victims’ fire safety fears

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VICTIMS of an arson attack on a block of flats say they are disgusted by the way they have been treated since the firebug struck.

The flat, which was set on fire a month ago, hasn’t been cleaned, and there are still smoke-damaged walls and the stench of burning in some areas of the building on Pheasant Close in Berkhamsted.

Neighbours who have vivid memories of escaping through thick smoke in zero visibility, are still jumpy and now have fresh concerns for their safety.

One, Keith Hicks, said: “The council didn’t speak to us. Someone just came and boarded up the flat.

And another, Steve Atkinson, complained: “There’s still a lot of smoke damage so we still have that reminder of the fire.

“We feel totally neglected by the council.”

Linda Whetter, who was told it would be two months before her damaged flat is repaired, said: “Smoke came through my airing cupboard and now I can’t use it because the odour is still seeping through from the arson flat downstairs.

“A plastic sheet was put over a blown-out window and now condensation is making it mouldy, the cracks are getting bigger and I don’t feel safe. I’m not sleeping properly.”

The residents had a meeting and wrote to Dacorum Borough Council asking for improved fire safety precautions because the incident highlighted how difficult it was for them to escape the building.

Mr Atkinson explained that there was no alarm and the only reason he knew about the fire was because the noise the firefighters made woke him up.

His wife Carol said: “It was horrific. The smoke was so thick we couldn’t see the stairs and I’m amazed we got out alive.”

The victims have asked for smoke detectors, improved lighting and luminous strips in the stairwell. They would also like access to the roof, a fire escape and for the locks to the building changed.

The council’s property manager Fiona Williamson explained the delays were due to asbestos being found at the flats and also said that the property team would be happy to give fire safety advice.

She said: “We are writing to all tenants in the block affected to provide additional information on fire safety.”