Mystery hero saves disabled Peterborough woman from house blaze

A disabled woman who was rescued from a house fire has asked her 'hero' to come forward so she can thank him.

Thursday, 14th December 2017, 1:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th December 2017, 1:10 pm
Patricia Vernall in her burnt-out home

Patricia Vernall was screaming and waving from her wheelchair at the front of her house in Lincoln Road, Werrington, on Monday morning, when a man stopped outside and pulled her to safety.

The stranger even offered to go inside and rescue her two young cats Charlie and Kitty, but a police officer who turned up at the scene told him not to. Firefighters soon arrived and brought the cats out, but before a relieved Patricia could thank the man he had gone.

The 57-year-old, who is paralysed, was not able to escape via a ramp at the back of her house due to the flames, and with nobody else around she was left at her front door needing help to get down the steps.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Patricia Vernall in her burnt-out home

She said: “I was waving and screaming out of the door. Cars were going past, but this man stopped. He was so lovely. He stopped on the drive and came running over. He did not think twice - he came straight in.

“I could not get out. I was about to throw myself out the wheelchair onto the floor.

“He said ‘is anyone else in there?’ I said ‘two kittens. I need them out’. He was about to go in but the police officer would not let him in. Then I turned around and he was gone.

“He’s my hero and I want to say thank you to him and the fire service. I would have been a lot worse without him. I would have breathed in a lot more smoke.”

Patricia Vernall in hospital following the fire

The stress gave Patricia a seizure and she was taken to hospital, having also suffered smoke inhalation, but she was able to stay overnight at her daughter-in-law’s house.

She will soon be off on a pre-arranged trip to see one of her daughters in Spain, but after that it is not clear where Patricia and husband Mick will live as they wait the estimated six months for the house to be made habitable.

The couple returned to their home of more than 14 years on Tuesday morning to survey the damage. The downstairs was largely gutted, with possessions in the living room completely destroyed and parts of the roof hanging off.

Upstairs has also been smoke damaged, ruining the clothes, but what was most heartbreaking for Patricia was seeing many of her precious family photos go up in smoke.

Patricia Vernall in her burnt-out home

“It was traumatic,” she said. “My memories, my life have gone up in smoke. It’s photos of my kids and grandchildren. My house is full of memories and they are gone.”

“Two of my children got married in the garden here. Two of my friends got married here. There are just so many memories. We were thinking about moving out - it’s just such a big house for us, but I could not do it. It’s my home.”

There is now a nervous wait while Patricia, who has seven children and nine grandchildren, finds out whether irreplaceable baby photos in the attic have survived the fire.

The blaze began late in the morning when Patricia was in the bathroom. She believes it may have been caused by one of her cats knocking over a candle.

Patricia Vernall in hospital following the fire

She said: “I was in the bathroom downstairs. I opened the door and all this black smoke came in - I was covered.

“I was coughing and spluttering on the phone to the fire service. I said ‘what should I do?’. She said ‘can you go to the front door?’. I said ‘I can wheel to the front but I can’t get out’.

“It seemed like I was waving and shouting forever but it might have been only a couple of minutes.”

Patricia’s daughter-in-law Charlotte Norris feared the worst when she turned up at the house and saw Patricia was not in her wheelchair.

She recalled: “I was on Twitter and saw the PT say one minute ago a house was burning in Werrington. I looked at the picture and froze. I knew it was the house. I got in the car and came straight over.

“As I pulled up the firefighters were there. I saw the empty wheelchair in the driveway and I thought she was dead.”