Family’s panic escape from fire at Florence Nightingale house

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‘Sheer panic’ gripped a family of 20 staying in the Peaks as they ran for their lives from fire at a prestigious holiday home.

Christina Connell and some 20 family and friends had gathered at the historic Lea Hall mansion – the childhood home of Florence Nightingale and now a holiday rental, for her daughter’s birthday weekend.

And now the family have told of their ‘nightmare’ as the house filled with smoke and put their lives at risk,

It was 6.30am when Christina, 63, a grandmother of two awoke with utter panic to the smell of smoke on Sunday, October 11, after the family from Merseyside had enjoyed a big birthday bash in fancy dress the night before.

The retired nurse said: “I leapt out of bed and went onto the landing and the house was field with smoke. I had to raise the alarm, the fire alarm didn’t go off and I knew there were 20 people sleeping, so I was yelling, ‘fire, fire, get out of the house’. I was the fire alarm.

“We all had to run for our lives in our night clothes as the fire brigade were called out, We rushed to get out of the building, some people escaped out of the front door, others out the back because of the way the levels are split, so we didn’t know who was where.

And as the fear of whether everyone made it out died down and all heads were accounted for, disaster struck.

“Little Jessica noticed that Seamus, the dog, was missing.

“She said ‘where’s Sha?’ and we realised, oh my god the dog is still in the building.

“Thankfully he emerged later, covered in soot after spending 40 minutes in the smoke.”

Two children were also caught in the panic – young Jessica, two and Tom, 14, after a de-humidifier in the cellar caught fire.

Daughter, Stephanie Porter, 40, a civil servant with the DWP said: “It was like a Hollywood movie, this nightmare we had after such a joyous night.

“We all panicked, then the dog wouldn’t come out of the house because the fire brigade were shouting, and then he came out.

“It was really said because we’d had such a lovely time, and it ended in a nightmare.

“We didn’t realise until a day or two after the enormity of it. My daughter was still picking soot our of her nostrils days later and her asthma had flared up. We’re both asthma sufferers and we’ve been going to the doctors.

Jess had just been to the doctors with a chest infection.

My poor nephew was really affected, he was vomiting and now he’s terrified of getting lung cancer.

“It consumed all of us.”

Sue Stevens of Cottages4You said: “We contractually require property owners to ensure that they comply with all relevant legislation. Owners are also contractually responsible for the safety of their holiday properties.

“Prior to the incident in question, we were unaware of any issues with Mrs Bunting’s property and she had satisfactorily completed the most current self-audit that we hold for her property.”

Co-owner of the house Peter Bunting said the group had been refunded the full rental for the three-days.

He added: “It’s unfortunate what happened but we do our own checks and everything was safe, fire blankets and fire alarms were in place. We’ve been doing this for 20 years and we’ve never had anything like this happen.

“The wiring on the de-humidifer was faulty which caused the fire. We’re making upgrades to improve our safety standards.”

Derbyshire Fire and Rescue confirmed crews from Crich, Alfreton and Matlock attended the fire confined to the basement of the house, and reported the three-storey building was ‘heavily smoke logged’

A spokesperson added: “All persons were accounted for, but one dog was missing. The fire was out out by 7.20am.”

Lea Hall in Main Road, Upper Lea is one of the most exquisite holiday homes in Derbyshire, owned by Derbyshire Country Homes for the past eight years and was valued at £1.75 million in May.

Aa grade 2* listed manor house in the Derbyshire Village of Lea, it goes for up to £3,500 a week and was the childhood home of Florence Nightingale, comprising a 16th century rear, and a magnificent 18th century front facade boasting a large dining room, chandeliers, 10 bedrooms landscaped garden and 7.6 acres of land.