THE neighbour of a Sunderland man who died when fire swept through his home today relived the awful moment she discovered the blaze.
Kevin Gray, 35, was declared dead at the scene after the fire in the downstairs flat in Northcote Avenue, Hendon, shortly before midnight on Tuesday.
A second man was rescued from the upstairs flat.
Husnara Begum said she had initially assumed the smoke alarm next door was a car alarm, but went downstairs to investigate when it did not turn itself off.
“It was about 11.15pm. We heard the alarm going off,” she said. “I came running downstairs and I could smell the smoke.
“We thought it was a car alarm. I came downstairs and there was smoke in our house as well. We got scared and rang 999. That is when the ambulances and fire engines came.”
The fire broke out during a 24-hour strike by the Fire Brigade Union as part of an ongoing national dispute over pensions.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling said the strike had had no impact on the time it took to respond to emergency calls about the blaze.
“As soon as we received a call about the fire, we immediately sent three appliances as we would have done if there wasn’t a strike,” he said.
“The service always prioritises life risk. It was clear from the first call that the fire was well alight.
“Our thoughts and sympathies go out to this gentleman’s family and friends at this very sad time.
“I would like to encourage people to take extra care. I cannot emphasise enough to everyone the importance of having working smoke alarms and an escape plan.
“Every household should have a smoke alarm on every level of their property and they should be checked regularly. They give you the vital minutes you need to get out safely.
“Householders should also ensure that everyone in the property knows what their escape plan is and in the event of a fire they get out, stay out and call 999.”
In all, the Tyne and Wear service received 42 calls – including 11 calls for the same incidents – during the strike and crews attended 22 incidents, including six fires, 14 false alarms and two reports of weather damage during the night’s high winds.
A Northumbria Police spokesman said the fire was not being treated as suspicious and a report will be prepared for the coroner.