James is hero of flats fire evacuation

A YOUNG neighbour emerged as the reluctant hero when residents were evacuated after an intense fire started in a block of retirement flats in Maybury on Monday last week.

James Johnson reached Beaufort Lodge in Grove Road before fire crews arrived and helped to usher out people who live on the ground floor.

James Johnson with wife Hayley and their sons Danny-Joe, six, baby James-Anthony and family friend Tony Ventura outside the fire-damaged flats. Photo by Terry Habgood

“I live in Maybury Road, which is quite close, and from our garden I could see smoke rising from the building,” said James, 30.

“I’m familiar with Beaufort Lodge so I knew there was a way I could get in through the car parking space.  There were no fire engines there at that point, so I had to do something. I didn’t really know what I’d find.

“I went into the ground floor and started knocking on doors, shouting that there was a fire and the residents had to get out. I was helping evacuate people, probably about six or seven of them, when the engines arrived and the firemen took over.”

James said he stayed to help with cordoning off roads and keeping the public at a safe distance. Other nearby residents had arrived to help as well, bringing towels and anything they felt may help the people from the flats.

“Then as I was rushing back and forwards up and down the roads, I put my foot in a pothole, rolled my ankle and broke it,” he added.

“At the time, the adrenaline probably saves you from the worst, but I was in severe pain for a few days afterwards.

“It’s almost funny, about 30 residents got out with thankfully no-one hurt, and I was the only injury.”

For James, though, married to Hayley and with sons Danny-Joe, six, and James-Anthony, 18 weeks, the injury was no laughing matter. A roofer by trade, he was due to start regular work the week of the fire, but that has now been delayed.

“They’re keeping the job open for me, and at least I can get around on a crutch now, so I’m mobile,” he said.

The late-night incident, in a flat on the third floor of Beaufort Lodge late in the evening on Monday 17 July, was caused by food being cooked and left unattended catching fire. Nine engines and an aerial ladder attended.

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