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Hoarding nearly cost this woman her life – now she’s throwing out bags of possessions

Published: Monday, 25 June, 2018

When Sandra Smith popped across the road to visit an elderly neighbour in The Croft in Cam, she couldn’t imagine that when she returned to her home less than an hour later it would be in the grips of a fire, with her beloved animals trapped inside.

“All I could think of was my dog who was in the kitchen,” she said. “I should have waited for the fire service to rescue him, but I rushed straight in.”

What greeted Sandra when she went into the kitchen was thick black smoke. 

Sandra managed to find her dog, but when she tried to escape, she struggled to find her way out.

“It was just like night time, I couldn’t see a thing and I didn’t know where the door was.”

When the fire brigade turned up and put out the fire, they saw that the cause was a laundry basket which was on the cooker. Sandra hadn’t turned it on, but thinks that she could have knocked the dial by accident as she walked by.

The fire was so intense that it melted the cooker and microwave, and the smoke meant that many of Sandra’s possessions had to be thrown away. She spent six days in hospital, and now suffers permanent damage to her lungs, throat and nose as a result of the smoke she inhaled.

“Thank goodness I had insurance” she commented. “I’d never claimed in eleven years and I even considered cancelling my policy. I’m so glad I didn’t.”

The fire was a wake up call for self-confessed hoarder Sandra.

 “I used to visit car boot sales, jumble sales and charity shops and buy nice things,” she said.  “I had furniture everywhere filled with ornaments, artificial flowers, books and so many lights that there were more than ten extension leads in my lounge alone.”

After the fire Sandra realised that her hoarding was out of control.

“If the fire had happened while I was asleep I’d never have got out alive,” she said. “That thought really shocked me. I had so many things that I blocked up the back door – that could have been my only escape route.”

Sandra has now gone through her possessions and got rid of many of them.  She filled two skips with smoke damaged furniture, furnishings and ornaments and gave what was salvageable to charity shops. She now keeps a small number of favourite ornaments in one cabinet, and has vowed not to fall into her old habits.

The close knit community in The Croft all rallied round to help. Sandra’s neighbours assisted with the clean-up and cooked meals for Sandra and her son until her cooker was replaced.

“I couldn’t wish for better neighbours,” she said.

“I’d also like to thank the man who was out walking his dog and dialled 999 for me, and the fire brigade who were absolutely brilliant.”

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