Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Youth centre staff raced into burning Walthamstow flat block as fire gutted family home

It took until almost 3am for some affected families to be rehoused

Hero for Youth centre staff raced into burning Walthamstow flat block as fire gutted family home
The fire brigade outside and damage inside the building (credit: Christine Cullen/WF Echo)
By Victoria Munro 20 July 2022

Staff from a Walthamstow youth centre raced into a burning flat block yesterday to rescue their neighbours from a fire that gutted a family’s home. Staff from a Walthamstow youth centre raced into a burning flat block yesterday to rescue their neighbours from a fire that gutted a family’s home. 

The fire on Grange Road began shortly after 5pm and took 35 firefighters until just before 8pm to get under control.The fire on Grange Road began shortly after 5pm and took 35 firefighters until just before 8pm to get under control.

Before emergency services arrived, staff from nearby youth centre Project Zero rushed in to alert residents and helped an elderly woman in a wheelchair escape her ground floor flat.Before emergency services arrived, staff from nearby youth centre Project Zero rushed in to alert residents and helped an elderly woman in a wheelchair escape her ground floor flat.

The family’s neighbour, unable to reach the stairs through the flames, was rescued with a ladder by the London Fire Brigade. No one was injured but a child was taken to hospital as a precaution after breathing in smoke.The family’s neighbour, unable to reach the stairs through the flames, was rescued with a ladder by the London Fire Brigade. No one was injured but a child was taken to hospital as a precaution after breathing in smoke.

Smoke billowing from the block yesterday (credit: Sheridan Flynn)Smoke billowing from the block yesterday (credit: Sheridan Flynn)

Project Zero, a non-profit aiming to eradicate youth violence, then sheltered and fed around 40 evacuated residents, including about 10 children, and stayed open late into the night until everyone was rehoused into hostels. Project Zero, a non-profit aiming to eradicate youth violence, then sheltered and fed around 40 evacuated residents, including about 10 children, and stayed open late into the night until everyone was rehoused into hostels. 

Christine Cullen, who lives opposite the building, told the Echo she heard screaming and looked out to see “smoke billowing out of the back of the building”.Christine Cullen, who lives opposite the building, told the Echo she heard screaming and looked out to see “smoke billowing out of the back of the building”.

She said: “The staff from Project Zero were amazing. They put t-shirts around their faces and ran into the building, even though it was on fire, to make sure residents got out.She said: “The staff from Project Zero were amazing. They put t-shirts around their faces and ran into the building, even though it was on fire, to make sure residents got out.

“They then went and got fire extinguishers from their building and later were handing out food and water for the fire crews.“They then went and got fire extinguishers from their building and later were handing out food and water for the fire crews.

“I think it was probably them that first spotted the smoke because it was blowing into their building. We’re really lucky to have that centre there to be honest.”“I think it was probably them that first spotted the smoke because it was blowing into their building. We’re really lucky to have that centre there to be honest.”

A glass door inside the building destroyed by flamesA glass door inside the building destroyed by flames

Nia Giche, a Project Zero staff member, said she originally thought the smell of smoke was from a barbeque until she noticed it was “really thick and black”.Nia Giche, a Project Zero staff member, said she originally thought the smell of smoke was from a barbeque until she noticed it was “really thick and black”.

While someone called the fire brigade, three staff members, including founder Steve Barnabis and Naaman Telfer from Spark2Life, raced in to make sure no one was trapped inside.While someone called the fire brigade, three staff members, including founder Steve Barnabis and Naaman Telfer from Spark2Life, raced in to make sure no one was trapped inside.

Nia said: “Everyone kind of just got together and figured out what to do. We got [everyone who was evacuated] into the car park in case the fire spread. Nia said: “Everyone kind of just got together and figured out what to do. We got [everyone who was evacuated] into the car park in case the fire spread. 

“The kids were all safe but everyone was quite distressed so we handed out ice lollies and played games and got the ice cream man to come down to relax them a bit, while we handled the actual situation. “The kids were all safe but everyone was quite distressed so we handed out ice lollies and played games and got the ice cream man to come down to relax them a bit, while we handled the actual situation. 

The London Fire Brigade at work (credit: Christine Cullen)The London Fire Brigade at work (credit: Christine Cullen)

“We opened up our hall for the residents who couldn’t go back to their flats and gave them some snacks and chairs so everyone could be together to sort things out. The police and council used that as a mini-hub to give announcements and updates.”“We opened up our hall for the residents who couldn’t go back to their flats and gave them some snacks and chairs so everyone could be together to sort things out. The police and council used that as a mini-hub to give announcements and updates.”

At around 12.30am, two families were still waiting at the centre to be rehoused by Waltham Forest Council and Project Zero booked an Uber and took them to Waltham Forest Town Hall to speak to someone. At around 12.30am, two families were still waiting at the centre to be rehoused by Waltham Forest Council and Project Zero booked an Uber and took them to Waltham Forest Town Hall to speak to someone. 

She added: “We ended up staying there until 1.30am to make sure they had accommodation, a way to get there and clothes, toiletries and other essentials.”She added: “We ended up staying there until 1.30am to make sure they had accommodation, a way to get there and clothes, toiletries and other essentials.”

This included the family living in the flat where the fire started, who were all thankfully out at the time: Yaa Pepera and her three children, aged 13, 10 and 7.This included the family living in the flat where the fire started, who were all thankfully out at the time: Yaa Pepera and her three children, aged 13, 10 and 7.

The family's balcony was destroyed in the fireThe family's balcony was destroyed in the fire

Yaa said she was returning from work after picking the kids up and arrived to see the building already in flames. She said: “I saw the flames through my window and everyone evacuated outside but I couldn’t get any closer to see how bad it was.Yaa said she was returning from work after picking the kids up and arrived to see the building already in flames. She said: “I saw the flames through my window and everyone evacuated outside but I couldn’t get any closer to see how bad it was.

“They told me it looks like the fire started on the balcony. It didn’t reach the kitchen so they could see all our appliances were switched off in there. “They told me it looks like the fire started on the balcony. It didn’t reach the kitchen so they could see all our appliances were switched off in there. 

“The kids had no jackets, no other clothes and no food and we didn’t get to the hostel in Ilford until 2.45am this morning.”“The kids had no jackets, no other clothes and no food and we didn’t get to the hostel in Ilford until 2.45am this morning.”

A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade said flats and balconies on the first, second and third floors were damaged by the fire. A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade said flats and balconies on the first, second and third floors were damaged by the fire. 

Because of the widespread crisis of fires in yesterday’s heat, firefighters from distant areas like Hammersmith, West Norwood, Kingston, Sidcup and Heston attended the scene.Because of the widespread crisis of fires in yesterday’s heat, firefighters from distant areas like Hammersmith, West Norwood, Kingston, Sidcup and Heston attended the scene.

The spokesperson added that the cause of the fire is still “under investigation”.The spokesperson added that the cause of the fire is still “under investigation”.

Readers who want to support Yaa and her family can reach her at yaapepera@gmail.com.Readers who want to support Yaa and her family can reach her at yaapepera@gmail.com.