Published: 17:00, 17 June 2014
A father has spoken of the terrifying moment he and his young son found themselves trapped in their upstairs flat after a suspected arson attack.
James Ellis was in bed, playing on his phone, with two-year-old Connor asleep next to him when he heard a “crackling” noise.
Opening the window he could see an orange glow coming from the side of the house.
He then noticed Wayne Raines running out of his house across the road shouting at him: “It’s on fire”.
Unknown to him, a wheelie bin had been placed in front of the door and set on fire, meaning the only escape route was blocked.
After waking his friend Dave, who was sleeping on the couch overnight, the pair made their way back to the front bedroom where they closed the door and pushed a quilt against the bottom of it to stop the smoke coming in.
Mr Raines got a ladder from his back garden and propped it up against the wall for them to escape.
At the same time, Ian Maggs, who lives in the bottom flat, was trying to extinguish the fire using buckets of water.
Mr Raines, a 40-year-old married dad of two, said: “The whole porch was alight from top to bottom so I grabbed the phone and opened the door.
“My wife Sue came out too. We were shouting at the window to get his attention.
“The fire brigade told me to stay away but he had a baby. I couldn’t stand there and not do anything about it so I grabbed the ladder.”
Mrs Raines, 33, said: “What scared me the most was how quiet it was. Had Wayne not been up I don’t know how long it would have been before someone realised there was a fire.”
Two fire engines called to the blaze in Cowper Road, Murston, were stuck in nearby roads, unable to reach the property due to cars parked on both sides of the narrow streets and on the corner of junctions.
As it was reported as persons trapped, four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus ran down the road with the intentions of carrying out a search and rescue of the property.
The engine eventually got through after sounding its horn and sirens and crew members shouting alerting people to the fact they needed to move their vehicles.
The incident happened just before midnight on Saturday.
Mr Ellis said: “I told Dave to go first. He then stood on the ladder and I passed Connor to him, then I got down. We had to hang out the window by our hands and drop onto it because it was a short ladder.
“I can’t thank my neighbours enough. They’re heroes. If it wasn’t for them it could have been a lot worse as there were three of us trapped.
“It wouldn’t be very nice of me to say how I feel about those responsible for starting the fire.
“The laws of fate tell you not everyone is going to be as lucky as us.”
The 28-year-old father-of-one, who only moved in to the flat a few weeks ago, says his toddler is traumatised by what happened.
He is now looking for a new place to live.
He added: “He wasn’t too bad to start with because he was still asleep. It was when he woke up and saw all the fire engines he got upset.
"I tried to get him back on father’s day to spend time with him and he wouldn’t come near the place so I’m going to move again because I have to see my son.”
“I can’t thank my neighbours enough. They’re heroes. If it wasn’t for them it could have been a lot worse as there were three of us trapped" - James Ellis
It’s not the first time Sittingbourne crews have been unable to get to a fire at a property in this area of Murston.
On May 17, a firefighter was forced to run to an address in Shortlands Road and use a bucket of water to put out a fire in the loft because the fire engine was unable to turn out of Goodnestone Road due to parked vehicles.
A Kent police spokesman said: “Officers are investigating after rubbish in a wheelie bin was set alight against the porch entrance to the flats, completely destroying the porch.
“Forensics experts were at the scene on Sunday and police are conducting house-to-house inquiries.”
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