‘A matter of life and death’ for Bolney blaze couple

JPCT 250313 House fire in Bolney. Owner Ian Liston. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 250313 House fire in Bolney. Owner Ian Liston. Photo by Derek Martin

A Bolney couple who became trapped in their upstairs bedroom as a blaze ripped through their home on Sunday have thanked emergency services and stressed the importance of smoke alarms.

Ian Liston was asleep recovering from a hip operation when his wife, Vivine, heard the alarm sound at around 1.45pm before dialling 999.

Fire crew who were scrambled to the scene in Wineham Lane said at one point they were thinking the worst.

“We were taken aback on route with the information we were reading,” explained Joe Bullingham, watch manager at Partridge Green. “We were thinking maybe the worst.”

The couple, both in their 60s, were given survival advice by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. They were told to stay in their bedroom, close the door and place a wet towel at the bottom.

But then the phone line went dead.

Firefighters grew more and more concerned.

“We really pushed ourselves to get there,” continued Mr Bullingham. “When you’re getting additional information that people are trapped then you know that they’re in a serious life threatening situation and we get there as quickly as we can.”

As crew approached the Liston’s neighbour came to the rescue and placed a ladder up against the bedroom window.

A sooty-faced Mrs Liston made her way down to safety but Ian was still trapped when the fire service arrived.

The watch commander said the ground floor was smoke logged and the heat had burst a kitchen window. Crew attacked the blaze, which had started from an ash bucket in the conservatory, before assisting Mr Liston out of the home.

Mr Liston said: “It was scary to be looking down [from the bedroom window] on the fire with wind blowing it up onto the hill.”

He explained the blaze had taken them ‘by surprise’ and firefighters could see smoke from around three miles away as they approached the home.

“It was a very chastening experience and not one I would like to repeat, but we’re very grateful to the fire brigade and ambulance people.

“I would like to pay a tremendous tribute to all the emergency services. Although there was no real need for the ambulance crews it’s very comforting to know that they were there in good time.

“And I can’t tell you how important it is to have fire alarms.”

He added that in these situations ‘you’ve got to stay calm and not panic’. “It’s no good putting your hand against your forehead and saying there’s nothing you can do.”

Mr Bullingham stressed too the importance of having a working smoke alarm in your home.

“In this situation the alarm would have saved them. They wouldn’t have known about the fire until the smoke got to them - it’s a matter of life and death. We still find a lot of properties that don’t have smoke alarms. Or some have them but without batteries. There’s no comparison to the value of life and the value of a smoke detector.”