Mum could not save daughter from blaze

A MOTHER who looked on helplessly as one of her young children burned to death in a blazing chalet spoke yesterday of her ordeal.Stacey Bristow, 22, and her three children had just moved into temporary accommodation at the Silverwoods complex in Thorrington when the tragedy happened.

A MOTHER who looked on helplessly as one of her young children burned to death in a blazing chalet spoke yesterday of her ordeal.

Stacey Bristow, 22, and her three children had just moved into temporary accommodation at the Silverwoods complex in Thorrington when the tragedy happened.

The four were living in one of 32 timber chalets at the Ten Penny Hill complex, which was primarily being used by local authorities to house homeless people.

Ms Bristow told an inquest at Colchester Town Hall that after putting her children to bed on the night of November 7 2005, she had watched TV and then phoned her former partner from the living area of the single-storey chalet.

The children were in an adjoining room and she lit a candle by her bed to try and relax.

However, the next thing she was aware of was two of her children waking her up.

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“Before I knew it the girls came in and said: 'Mummy it's hot.'

“I grabbed those two and ran across to someone else's chalet. I banged on the door.

“They took a while to open but when they did they could see what had happened.”

Ms Bristow added she felt she must have fallen asleep within five to 10 minutes of lighting the candle.

She said that after rescuing her first two children she wanted to return to get the youngest, five-year-old Courtney, who was still in the chalet, but was unable to because of the fire.

“There was a lot of smoke because my cushion fell on it -it was half touching the bed and half the candle. There were a lot of flames.”

Support worker Joe Ellis, who was in charge of the complex that night, said in a written statement that at around 2.30am, while making a cup of tea, he was alerted by a tapping on his office window.

“From the window I could see what I thought was a fine mist. I went out through the office and noticed it was smoke.”

He added that at first he was not concerned because it was close to bonfire night.

“But as soon as I turned the corner all hell broke loose. I could clearly see the chalet was ablaze.

“I said: 'What the hell's happened?' Someone said something about a candle.”

Mr Ellis explained that after being told a child was inside he desperately tried to save her.

He entered through the front door but was confronted by flames and smoke and could not reach the bedroom where Courtney was.

“I ran around to the external bedroom door. I tried the door but couldn't open it. I then tried to force the door with my shoulder but it wouldn't give.”

He said he also tried kicking it but had lost strength after inhaling smoke inside.

Surrounding trees were burning and falling around the chalet, Mr Ellis added.

“I managed to pull the window open … I tried to get in but only managed to get my top half in.”

After moving back, he tried for a second time.

“I went back again to the window and tried to get in as far as I could. I stretched my arms in front of me and said: 'Don't be scared and reach out for me.'”

He added: “At this point the heat had got so intense I had to go back again.”

Assistant divisional officer Richard Melanaphy, of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, investigated the blaze.

He said he arrived at Silverwoods towards the end of the incident when emergency services were still at the scene.

The building and its contents had been very badly damaged in the fire, he added.

“I have formed the view that the cause of the fire, having excluded all other causes, was accidental due to the lighting of the candle,” he concluded.

Recording her verdict, Essex coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray said: “I have heard from Courtney's mother, who very bravely gave an account of what happened.

“I have heard from Mr Ellis, who fearlessly and desperately tried to get Courtney out that night.”

Offering the court's sympathies to Ms Bristow, she ruled: “Courtney Bristow died as a result of an accident.”

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