BATTERED but alive, householder Mark Waller today told how he cheated death in a gas explosion which engulfed his home and turned him into a “fireball”.
The 45-year-old escaped with burns to his head and hands after the blast, which devastated his ground-floor flat in Halidon Road, Hill View, Sunderland.
He had just returned home from a night out when he lit a cigarette, sparking the horror blaze.
As police and firefighters continue their investigation into the explosion, Mark has re-lived the terrifying moment he fled the inferno.
“I was told by the emergency services that I’d be dead if I’d lit up in the kitchen or bedroom instead of the sitting room,” he said. “It was that close. If I’d been even a few feet nearer the explosion, I’d be a goner.
“All I can think is that somebody up there likes me and it wasn’t my time.
“I remember there was a bang and a huge red flash which engulfed me.
“It was like a fireball.
“I wasn’t aware at the time how loud it was, but some of the neighbours said it was like a bomb going off.
“I grabbed a quilt to protect me from the flames and ran outside into the street.
“I was in complete shock.
“The next thing I knew the neighbours were around me and the emergency services were there.”
Rushed to Sunderland Royal Hospital, Mark was later transferred to Newcastle RVI, where he spent six days and underwent treatment at a specialist burns unit and physiotherapy to regain the movement in his hands.
“The doctors said I was lucky to be alive,” he said. “I was in a real mess. My face and hands were swollen up. I was on morphine and in terrible pain.
“The hospital staff were amazing and I can’t thank them enough.
“I could have been scarred for life.”
Mark, who is currently staying at a hostel, said he lost everything in the blast.
“All I have left is the clothes I’m standing in,” he said. “I’ve lost everything: clothes, furniture, the lot.
“At the minute, I’m living in a hostel until they can find me a new flat.
“But I’ve been given a lot of support by neighbours who are helping me get on my feet again. They’ve been great.”
Neighbouring properties and two cars were also hit by the blast earlier this month.
A conservatory in nearby Helvellyn Road also collapsed after its windows and doors were blown out.
Masonry and shattered glass was strewn across gardens and a front door was thrown more than 15ft across the road.
Mark’s flat was among four properties which had to be subsequently demolished on safety grounds.
“I couldn’t believe the pictures of the house after the explosion,” he said. “It really started to sink in then how close I’d come to being killed.
“I was full of cold, which must be why I didn’t smell any gas at the time.”
A 27-year-old man remains of police bail after being arrested on suspicion of burglary.
He was questioned by officers shortly after the incident.
Police are now understood to be pursuing a line of inquiry which suggests the property may have been burgled and damaged prior to the blast.