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Tenants warned of fire dangers in block of flats

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: January 29, 2013

By David Shepherd

  • The fire-damaged flat in Rena Hobson court after a fatal blaze in 2003. Inset, one of the fuse boxes deemed to be not up to standard

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MORE than 30 residents of a block of flats in Tiverton would struggle to escape if fire broke out, experts say.

Electric meters in a common stairwell at Rena Hobson Court are contained in plastic boxes attached to timber-framed walls.

And concern has been raised by Mid Devon District Council and fire officers over the chances of escape for tenants of apartments numbered 1-32 if the meters were to catch alight.

Sarah Self, a private sector housing officer, has written to residents and council members to warn them of the danger.

"While the building inspector was on-site he noticed that the fire resistance between the flats and the common escape area is severely compromised by the electric meter boxes," Mrs Self said.

"The wall is timber framed and the box is plastic and it does not give 30 minutes of fire resistance.

"This potentially affects the means of escape in the event of a fire from the flats.

"It is likely that all electric meter boxes are similar and any in a similar condition will need to be replaced which will include any wiring associated with the box," added Mrs Self, who will soon be visiting the flats to examine the meter boxes.

A devastating blaze at a Rena Hobson Court flat in 2003 led to the death of 24-year-old Neil Cole, whose fire alarm had no batteries in it.

His badly burnt body was found behind the lounge doors of his one-bedroom apartment and he was only identified by his dental records.

An inquest heard how Mr Cole had spent an August evening drinking at Tiverton Town Football Club's social club before returning home at 11.30pm.

It is believed he may have fallen asleep while smoking.

Cllr Kevin Wilson, whose council ward includes Rena Hobson Court, which is situated off Spencer Drive, said: "I don't like the thought of people's homes having a problem which the fire officer and building inspectors are both unhappy with.

"It doesn't need somebody to make a mistake but it can be an act of God that can blow meter boxes off the wall and start a fire."

Sanctuary Housing Association is responsible for flats 33-44, while the remaining flats are privately owned.

A spokesperson for the Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service said: "We attended a meeting with other agencies at the location and the main concern shared by the agencies was the potential speed of which a fire in one of the flats could spread into the corridor, which is the main escape route for the residents.

"The minimum level of fire resistance required is 30 minutes and there was concern whether the fire resistance provided by the walls within the meter boxes in the corridors provided that level of resistance.

"We will continue to work with other agencies and the owners to assess the situation and agree any remedial action which may be required."

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