Ilford PDSA fire: Witness describes ‘panic’ as Cranbrook Road charity shop destroyed
PUBLISHED: 15:32 30 March 2013 | UPDATED: 18:38 30 March 2013
A man who saw the first flames which ultimately destroyed the PDSA charity shop in Ilford has spoken of the “panic” as the fire consumed the building.
Marius Dirmantas says he walked into the shop in Cranbrook Road yesterday afternoon just as the fire started.
He said: “When I opened the store doors I instantly noticed 15cm tall flames quickly growing on top of women’s dresses which were hanging on the left-hand side.
“Those dresses were hanging about 2m from the store entrance.
“I instantly decided to step outside and other customers thought the same.
“I saw about four people inside and a woman with children who were instantly evacuated by members of staff.
“One of the staff members locked the door with shaking hands and hidden panic in her eyes.
“People outside just looked through the windows as the flames got bigger and bigger.”
More than 30 firefighters were called to the blazing building at just after 1.30pm, with two people in flats above the shop escorted out.
Mr Dirmantas added: After 30 seconds when the store doors where closed, smoke filled the room.
“In a minute all the windows turned black.
“After about two minutes smoke started coming from any possible gap.
“At the beginning it was possible to put out the fire until it became unstoppable – although there was no attempt to do so.
“In about four minutes firemen came. They had to break down doors which were locked.
“All the toxic smoke was released into the air. I was standing on other side of the road.
“The smell of that smoke was awful. Most people were standing and watching with one hand covering there mouths and others holding phones. “My jacket still has the smell of that smoke.”
Mr Dirmantas said he did not see how the fire started, with the cause currently being investigated.
The entire shop was destroyed by fire, with flats above damaged by thick smoke.
The PDSA shop sells things like clothes, books and bric-a-brac to help the charity raise money for free veterinary services.
Jon Henderson, a crew manager at Ilford Fire Station, said: “There was a lot of heat and lots of smoke because of the textiles inside.
“There was a pile of clothes that was alight on the floor of the shop.
“Because it was quite a big area it [the fire] was not too intense.”
It took about an hour to put out the fire and several more for the wreckage to be fully damped down with water.
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