Peterborough army veteran ‘incredibly grateful’ after fire-ravaged family home restored by Help for Heroes volunteers
A Peterborough army veteran who served in Afghanistan has said he is “incredibly grateful” after fellow service personnel helped him restore his family’s home after it was gutted by fire.
Dad of three Blake Clark saw the home in Hampton go up in flames one night in October, leaving him fearful for his wife and children’s safety.
Thankfully wife Catherine (40) and daughters Leah and Casey, as well as their three Cockapoos, were able to make it to safety, but because Catherine and Casey (14) both have respiratory conditions, and Catherine also has ME, any household items which had been affected by smoke had to be destroyed.
That left the family spending weeks in a hotel and Blake fighting a battle to get everyone back home in time for Christmas, one which he won (just) thanks to a band of Help for Heroes service personnel and their families.
Blake (39), who was in the British Army for nine years before being medically discharged after being diagnosed with PTSD, said: “When we were still in a hotel in early December I started to panic as I didn’t want my family to spend Christmas in a hotel room. I asked Help for Heroes to put out a request for help in painting the inside of the house and we were inundated with offers from other veterans.”
The special paint prevents smoke from coming through the walls and cost £150 per large tub, with Blake forking out for three to make sure it covered the entire house.
But getting it on the walls in time for Christmas would not have been possible without the help from those affiliated with Help for Heroes.
“People have been amazing,” said Blake. “Some have come for several evenings in a row after work, and one RAF veteran with a prosthetic leg spent two days painting. We also had generous offers of household items such as a dining table and chairs which meant we could sit down at a table for some sort of Christmas dinner – even though our kitchen wasn’t finished in time.
“It made all the difference and I’m incredibly grateful for people caring enough to give up their time.”
Recalling the night of the fire itself back in October, which was caused by a fault in the electrical box, Blake remembers being called by Catherine after 10pm.
He said: “My wife was just about to go to bed but could smell something and could not figure out what was going on. She rang me when she could see smoke. I said ‘get out, I’ll come round’.
“I got there and saw half the house was on fire. I did not know if they were outside or not. I don’t think any logical thought goes through your mind. I was just thinking ‘where are my wife and children and did they get out?’
“Fortunately they were in the back garden and passing the thee dogs over the fence into next door.
“The fire service turned up within a couple of minutes which was brilliant and they put the fire out quickly. It was an electrical fire which was re-igniting in the box so we had to get the National Grid out to cut the wires.
“I’m thankful everyone got out okay. Another half an hour it could have been a completely different story as everyone would have been in bed. I’m very grateful.”
Blake is also grateful to those who gave up their time for free just before Christmas - including one person who came from Norwich and another from near London - and has vowed to support them in the future if they ever need his help.
He added: “The fact they were willing to drive that far to paint was brilliant. A former army officer also came for the day while a former soldier who lives in Orton came over three nights and did the dump run.
“Having someone here for even a couple of hours was just so helpful.
“People supported us with food hampers - it was just before Christmas, so for anyone to give up any of their times was amazing.
“It was very stressful trying to get everything ready and still having the housing association turning to do repairs. In the end we did not move back in until Christmas Eve night.
“The fact people gave up a day of their life just before Christmas to get my family back in their home - I’m enormously grateful.
“I said to them ‘if you’re ever in need I will help. I don’t care where it is’.”
Lindsay Hutton, Co-ordinator for the Help for Heroes’ Fellowship network for veterans, their families and carers, said: “It has been great to have such a big response to Blake’s request with so many people offering items for the family, help with painting and offering their help in any way needed.
“What an amazing group of human beings our veterans and their families are. This is truly what fellowship is all about.”