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Fire bosses warn the elderly to be aware of fires after two tragic deaths over Christmas

Fire chiefs have warned the elderly to be on red alert after two residents were tragically killed in house fires over the festive period.

Scene of the fire in Rishton, which struck on Boxing Day, claiming the life of Sheila Sourbutts, 83.

Fire chiefs have warned the elderly to be on red alert after two residents were tragically killed in house fires over the festive period.

The borough has seen four deaths in similar blazes at this time of year since 2009, a quarter of the total across Lancashire.

Elderly and vulnerable residents are believed to be most at risk, particularly around the busy Christmas and New Year period. In the latest tragedy Sheila Sourbutts, 83, died after a blaze broke out at her home on Cliff Street in Rishton in the early hours of Boxing Day.

Firefighters rescued Mrs Sourbutts from the ground floor and her son Ross from the first floor, but she died later that night in hospital from the effects of smoke inhalation.

It followed another fatal house fire in Oswaldtwistle earlier in the month. Over the past three years 18 people across the county have been killed in house fire accidents in the two-week interval between December 17 and December 31.

The average age of those to die was 72.

Brad Walker, station manager at Hyndburn, said the deaths were “devastating” for everybody. He added: “The worrying fact is that this is the fourth death in three years at the same time of year. There’s a growing trend as people are in houses with all these different electrical items, some are cooking and drinking alcohol. It’s a horrible thing to happen at any time of year but at Christmas it really does hit home how fragile life is.”

Thomas Cunliffe, 92, died after smoke filled the Oswaldtwistle home he shared with his wife on Monday, December 17. His neighbour, policeman Aaron Wilson, twice crawled through Mr Cunliffe's burning home to try and save him. But despite his and firefighters’ efforts Mr Cunliffe died two days after the blaze in hospital.

The causes of both fires in Rishton and Oswaldtwistle are still under a joint investigation.

Fire bosses said two smoke alarms fitted in the Blackburn Road bungalow were not working because the batteries had been removed.

Station manager Walker said the fire alarm installed at Mrs Sourbutts’ house helped alert her son and save his life.

He urged all residents to check smoke alarms are fitted and working in their own houses and the homes of elderly or lonely neighbours and friends.

Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson, who is a retained firefighter, sent a message to residents to “have fun but be safe”.

If you don’t have a working alarm, you can buy one for them from a local hardware shop or get one from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service by ringing 0800 1691125 or visiting www.lancsfirerescue.org.uk   

Top tips:

  • Check smoke alarm is working
  • Visit elderly relatives, friends or neighbours to check they have a working smoke alarm
  • Don’t drink when cooking
  • Turn off all electrical equipment before going to bed
  • Empty any discarded cigarettes out of the bins
 

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