Young girl dies in chalet fire

AN unattended candle was probably the cause of a fierce blaze in a wooden chalet that left a five-year-old girl dead, fire investigators said yesterday.

By Roddy Ashworth

AN unattended candle was probably the cause of a fierce blaze in a wooden chalet that left a five-year-old girl dead, fire investigators said yesterday.

The child was killed after her mother was rescued from the building with two other youngsters in the early hours of yesterday morning at the Silverwoods complex, on Ten Penny Hill in Thorrington.

One of the members of staff at the site, a former motel now used to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people, desperately battled to reach the girl by breaking through a window but was beaten back by smoke and flames.

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The employee had already saved the three survivors. He suffered smoke inhalation and a cut to his leg and was taken to Colchester General Hospital.

The mother of the child and the two other girls - aged four and two -were unhurt in the fire, which broke out shortly before 3am.

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They were said to be staying with relatives yesterday and have not been identified. It is understood the family were housed at Silverwoods by Colchester Borough Council on Friday.

Yesterday divisional officer Lee Neale, of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, said nothing remained of the two-roomed chalet except a charred frame.

He estimated the building had measured approximately seven metres by three metres and said it had been made entirely of wood.

It is thought the child had been in a bunk bed in the bedroom area while it is believed her mother - said to be in her early 20s - was in the living room.

DO Neale said: “We are conducting a thorough investigation alongside the police and forensic scientists, although at this stage we do not believe it was suspicious.

“Initial investigations suggest a candle by a bed in the living area of the chalet lit a pillow or cushion.”

DO Neale, community commander for Colchester and Tendring, said when fire crews arrived at the scene the chalet was fully ablaze from end to end.

“They had information there was still a person in the premises, so they used breathing apparatus and entered.

“They located the casualty quite quickly but because of the extent of the fire and the condition of the building it was unfortunately pretty clear it was going to be fatal.”

He added: “Our hearts go out to the family. This does have an impact on our officers - you can't help but relate it to your own family.”

Fire crews from Wivenhoe, Brightlingsea and Clacton fought the blaze. Geoff Waller, sub officer at Wivenhoe Fire Station, said when they arrived the chalet was well alight.

He added: “The fire was in her bedroom and she had been in her bunk bed.

“The whole place was on fire from top to bottom when we got there - it was completely burning.

“A car next to it was also on fire. Anyone in the chalet when we arrived would not have stood a chance.”

A spokesman for Essex Ambulance Service said: “A man who was working there managed to get a mother and two children out, but unfortunately he couldn't get the five-year-old girl out.”

He said the mother and two children did not require hospital treatment.

“He did a tremendous job in saving the lives of these people on three occasions, but unfortunately he was not able to save the life of the fourth.

“This is an absolute tragedy. We would commend the brave actions of this man in trying to save the lives of all these people.”

Yesterday Sally Maguire, a spokeswoman for Silverwoods, said: “This has been absolutely devastating for everyone and we'd like to be left to deal with it.

“I did not know the girl. She had only been here a short time. Our thoughts are with the family and the member of staff who was hurt trying to help the girl. He tried to rescue her by breaking through the window and pulling her out.

“Our fire risk assessments were fine. We have contractors who make sure everything is up to date.”

The Silverwoods Motel was bought in 2000 by a company that stopped it operating as a tourist venue and instead placed asylum seekers there.

However, in recent years it has not housed asylum seekers but instead offered temporary accommodation facilities to local authorities for them to refer homeless people to.

A spokesman for Tendring District Council said the premises had recently been inspected by officers and met all the accommodation standards required.

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