Ben Hills, along with his wife and 13-year-old son, were in Copenhagen when they found out their home in Wear Bay Crescent was on fire, after flames spread from an inferno which is believed to have started accidentally in their neighbour’s conservatory.
While their home was severely damaged, it wasn’t completely destroyed due to the work of the fire crews and the internal doors being closed.
Ben said: "We had smoke alarms fitted in our house and the firefighters told us that our alarms were going off like there’s no tomorrow, and our internal doors were shut which stopped a lot of fire and smoke spreading to other parts of the house. It’s quite strange because in two rooms you wouldn’t necessarily know there had even been a fire, because the doors were shut.”
Kent Fire and Rescue Service Area Manager Colin King said: “The Hills family did exactly the right thing, closing all internal doors when leaving the house. It makes a huge difference in a fire, slowing a blaze down and reducing the amount of damage to the rest of a property.
“If you can, it’s really good to get into the routine of closing internal doors before you go to bed or before going out. And of course, remember to test your smoke alarm weekly so you’re alerted as soon as a fire starts, giving you and your family the best chance of escaping safely.”
Two weeks on and the family is coming to terms with what has happened.
Ben said: “We’re still in shock and every morning you wake up and remember you’re not at home and won’t be for maybe another year. On Christmas morning we had a house and a few days later, we didn’t have a house.”
On 30 December and within 8 hours of being alerted, Ben had flown back to the UK to find his property smouldering and surrounded by emergency services. Despite losing many belongings in the fire, he and his family are very grateful to fire crews for salvaging items close to their hearts.
Ben said: “The fire commander asked me if there were any items that were really precious to us, and at that point we could see that the top floor walls were still intact. I told him about two special items in that area of the house and I was amazed and extremely touched and grateful when a firefighter came out with them. They are irreplaceable and mean so much to us.
“The crews were incredible, and we’ll always be grateful to them. If those had been the only items we’d been able to save, we would still be indebted, but the fact that we managed to get out more of our belongings later on, is a credit to the fire service.
“They not only saved our house from completely burning down but showed such compassion.”
The family is now embarking on a rebuild project which is expected to take around a year to complete, and will hopefully start this week.
Ben said: “It was such a big fire and we know we’ve got a huge project ahead of us and it’s going to take a while for it to get sorted. We’re working with specialist contractors, who work on rebuilds and we’ve been told that we’ll be lucky to be in by Christmas. But we think we’ve found a house around the corner that we’re going to rent until we’re back in, which is a positive step.”