Neighbours save woman from blaze

THREE brave neighbours have been hailed as heroes after they saved the life of a frightened disabled woman trapped on the top floor of her burning home.

By Sharon Asplin

THREE brave neighbours have been hailed as heroes after they saved the life of a frightened disabled woman trapped on the top floor of her burning home.

The ground floor of Julie Coogan's mid-terraced house was already an inferno when friends and neighbours realised she was still inside. They hauled a ladder into her garden, climbed up to her and carried her to safety.

The alarm had been raised by Jamie Gilbey, 30, and Raymond Czapla, 28, who spotted the flames coming from the home in Philip Road, Witham, just before 8pm on Friday. They called 999 and ran to warn the next-door neighbours they could also be in danger.

Mr Gilbey said: “Raymond had just been dropped off at mine and I was talking to the driver and I turned and saw what looked like a big candle through the window of the house opposite. But it seemed to grow very quickly and we realised there was a fire.

“I had to jump over the gate to get to the neighbours and Raymond tried to kick down the front door.

Most Read

“It was just natural instinct to help and luckily I just happened to be outside. If we had stayed in the pub for an extra 10 minutes I do not think she would have got out.”

The pair were joined by Trevor Smith, who lived next door to the burning house. He ran for a ladder and threw it over the back fence. He had a key so he unlocked the front door and tried to find Ms Coogan, a mother-of-four in her late thirties, who lived there alone.

“I got as far as her front room door but the smoke and fumes were too much and I came out,” he said. “Jamie also tried to get to her through the front door but Raymond pulled him back.”

The three then went into the back garden where they spotted Ms Coogan at an upstairs window. At this stage they were worried the windows of the property were about to explode in the heat.

Mr Smith said: “Between us we managed to carry her down. She was holding on to me because she knew and trusted me.”

Mr Czapla added: “I went up the ladder to get her and even though it was getting very hot we just kept telling her to take her time and not to panic. We were all quite shocked as it had happened so quickly.”

Mr Smith's wife Sue, who was evacuated from her home while the drama unfolded, said: “If it were not for those two boys I do not think we would be here now. I am so proud of them, they really deserve an award.”

The heat of the fire was so fierce when she was finally allowed back into her home she burnt her hand on the hot metal door handle.

When the two fire crews from Witham arrived on the scene flames were blazing out of the front door. It took them about 30 minutes to bring the fire under control using hose reels and breathing apparatus.

Witham station officer Terry Hutton confirmed the cause of the fire was being investigated.

“You cannot say too much about the men who rescued her,” he said. “It is not an exact science but the more quickly she was out, the more quickly she was in safety. It was a very intense fire which radiated a lot of heat.”

Yesterday a spokesman for Essex police confirmed that officers had been called by fire crews on their way to the blaze.

He said a woman had been admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act following the fire. She was taken to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford suffering from smoke inhalation and later transferred to The Linden Centre.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter