SHOCKED Bill Connell today told how he escaped tragedy after a tiny tea light sparked a devastating blaze at his home.
The 56-year-old had to flee his house after the living room was engulfed by the fire which was caused by the small candle, which had been left on top of the TV.
Caretaker Bill was in another room when he smelled smoke and was horrified to discover the blaze.
He said: “It was one of the scariest things I have ever known.
“I went into the living room and it was full of smoke and the fumes from the burning plastic of the TV were horrendous.
Bill admits he was lucky to get out alive, as no smoke alarms were fitted at his house in Gladstone Terrace, Boldon Colliery.
He said: “Thank goodness it didn’t take the fire crews long to get here.
“I got a real fright when I saw the amount of damage the fire had caused in such a short time.
“I didn’t realise that you had to put tea lights in proper fire-resistant holders, and I had no idea that the heat from the bottom could get so hot that it would cause a fire, melting the TV completely, but when you think about it they are a naked flame and they can be lethal.
“I’m just glad I’m here to tell the tale.
“If I’d had a smoke alarm there would have been a lot less damage.
“The amount of smoke in the passageway would have set it off and I would have known about the fire much earlier.
“Even worse, what if I had been asleep and not been aware of the smoke until it was too late?
“The consequences don’t even bear thinking about.
“When I think back I realise how stupid I was not to have fitted smoke alarms.
“I am still in shock. You always think that something like this will never happen to you, but it can.”
Bill says that he would urge people to be “extra careful” and never leave candles unattended.
He said: “Either don’t use them at all or make sure you blow them out when you leave the room. It could save you and your family.
“At the very least, I have a lot of redecoration to do, but it could have been so much worse.”
Fire crews from South Tyneside East Community Fire Station were at the scene on December 30.
Ian Robertson, district manager with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Bill was extremely lucky to escape this fire unhurt and that damage to his house was limited. It could have been so much worse.
“We urge everyone to take extra care to reduce the risk of fire at all times by fitting working smoke alarms and to ensure candles are placed on a heat-resistant surface.
“Night lights and tea lights get hot enough to melt plastic.
“You should also ensure that candles are not left unattended, and to check they are definitely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
“We want everyone to have a happy and safe 2012 so we urge people to take fire safety seriously.
“Get smoke alarms installed, test them weekly, reduce or remove any fire hazards and plan your escape route in case of a fire.”