Electrical fault caused the fire

SCORES of elderly and disabled residents were evacuated on Sunday (July 28) after a major fire broke out at their sheltered accommodation.

More than 50 firefighters were drafted in from across the county to tackle the blaze, which started in a sixth-floor flat at Marlborough House in Warrior Square, St Leonards, at around 8.30am.

The scene of the fire. Picture by Hannah Collisson

The scene of the fire. Picture by Hannah Collisson

Eleven fire engines and three aerial ladder platforms were needed by firefighters as they battled to stop the fire in the roof of the building spreading to adjacent properties.

The aerial ladder platforms were used to fight the fire from outside. Firefighters tackled the flames inside the building wearing breathing apparatus.

More than 30 residents were evacuated and watched from Warrior Square Gardens as the blaze took hold.

Inspector Phil Hogan, of Sussex Police, said: “Emergency services were alerted and our officers entered the building to support fire and rescue colleagues in evacuating the residents, many of them with restricted mobility.

“Fortunately no one was reported injured although three people were taken to hospital. A man was taken as a precaution and a woman to access medication. A third person reported feeling unwell.”

The area was cordoned off for most of the day, causing severe traffic congestion along the seafront.

Marlborough House residents were cared for by volunteers at Christ Church in London Road while Hastings Borough Council liaised with Hyde Housing Association, which owns Marlborough House, to find places for them to go.

Kevin Boorman, Hastings Borough Council spokesman, said: “We moved all of the vulnerable residents from Warrior Square Gardens to the church hall. Some were in their night clothes and some hadn’t even had breakfast yet. Asda in Battle Road donated more than £100 worth of food for the residents’ lunch, as did the Co-op in London Road when they found out what had happened.

“The team at Christ Church was absolutely superb, as we liaised with members all through the day trying to find new accommodation for residents.”

He said all Marlborough House residents were re-housed in temporary accommodation by 6pm on Sunday. Twelve were accommodated with friends and family, two were taken to hospital, and 22 were found places in local care/nursing homes.

Mr Boorman added: “They were very distressed over what happened.”

Cllr Jeremy Birch, council leader, said: “The council organised accommodation for 19 of the residents. I arrived there from 9am and, talking to residents, they said they were very grateful for the support from their own care staff. Many were distressed and upset as they can’t go back to their homes, worried that mementos and other family photos have been lost. We don’t know how long the building will be out of use, as the roof has completely gone.”

Dave Hawkins, senior operations manager for South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECamb), who attended the scene, said: “It’s fortunate that no one was seriously injured as a result of this blaze.

“The incident was very well-managed and all the emergency services worked well together, including our Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART) who worked alongside firefighters, to evacuate the home.”

By Sunday evening firefighters had scaled down their operation but several fire engines remained in place.

Relief crews continued working throughout the night and on Monday returned to check for any hotspots.

Councillor Phil Scott, Fire Authority member and leader of the Labour group on the Combined Fire Authority in East Sussex, said: “The fire at Marlborough House was a terrible tragedy for the residents who lived there.

“Dozens of older and more vulnerable residents have been displaced from their homes and many have lost life-long personal mementos.

“Some of this could have been avoided, I believe, had sprinkler systems been in place. Damage to the fabric of the building may have been reduced. Thankfully though there were no lives lost on this occasion.

“It is a legal requirement on a care provider to ensure that a risk assessment is made on its residents and an evacuation plan without the assistance of emergency services is in place in the event of such an incident.”

Allison Collins, spokeswoman for ESFRS, said: “The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.

“However the information we have at the moment, it is believed to be an accidental electrical fire.”

David Boardman, spokesman for Hyde Housing, which owns Marlborough House, said: “We have been working with the emergency services who attended the scene and representatives from Family Mosaic, who deliver support and care provision at the scheme, the local authority, local voluntary organisations, Christ Church in London Road and the commercial tenants.

“Our focus at this time remains the welfare of our residents and the management of their care and accommodation needs.”

Marlborough House was built in 2001 on the spot of the old Marlborough Hotel, which sated back to the early 19th century.