Fireball horror in man's Blackpool home

Neighbours today described the moment a '˜fireball' tore through the home of an elderly man.

Thursday, 1st June 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:17 pm
Explosion at a house on Conway Avenue in Normoss

Three men rushed to the aid of the pensioner, named locally as Roy Pearson, and pulled him to safety after an explosion devastated his Conway Avenue home yesterday.

One, who asked not to be named, said he saw a ‘big flash, like a fireball.

“I ran at break-neck speed to get to Roy’s and the front of his house had fallen off,” he added.

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Explosion at a house on Conway Avenue in Normoss

“The fact he walked out is a miracle.”

Mr Pearson received treatment for burns. The cause of the blast is under investigation.

The sound of the explosion, which happened at Mr Pearson’s semi-detached home in Conway Avenue, Normoss at around 8pm, was so loud even residents from nearby streets went to see what had happened.

Its cause was under investigation yesterday, with Mr Pearson’s next door neighbour saying he could smell gas seconds before the blast.

Explosion at a house on Conway Avenue in Normoss

The man, who did not want to be named, said he saw a ‘big flash, like a fireball’ while looking out his back window.

“Cavity insulation was coming down like snow and there was smoke,” he said. “I ran at break-neck speed to get to Roy’s, and the front of his house had fallen off.”

He said Mr Pearson’s neighbour on the other side, Woody from Big Woody’s skate shop on Talbot Road, clambered over the debris left scattered across the front garden and through the huge hole where the bay window had been just moments earlier.

“Chris came out with Roy,” he added. “He looked like a zombie. His face was not burnt but it was green and blue and yellow.

“He had no hair – it was burnt to a frazzle. I put my arm around his back and his clothes were all brittle. His hands were raw and he was completely in shock, asking what had happened.”

Woody, who gave only his nickname, said he was in an upstairs bedroom when he heard an explosion followed by the rumble of the house partially collapsing. Initially thinking something had happened in the alleyway separating his home from Mr Pearson’s, he said he ran outside to see ‘all the debris and smoke’. “I knew the door would be locked because it always is,” he said. “I looked through the window and saw Roy stood in the middle of the room.”

Woody clambered inside the house to help Mr Pearson, saying he acted instinctively and not out of heroism.

“One of my neighbours followed and managed to get the door open as I ushered Roy out,” he added.

“The internal doors were blown off and the windows had gone. Stuff was everywhere and there were small piles of fires burning. I turned the gas and electricity off and just left.

“We brought Roy into ours. I can’t believe how all right he was.”

The neighbour who ran inside and managed to prise Mr Pearson’s door open, Don Eardley, 64, was at work yesterday.

His wife, 60-year-old Trinity Hospice worker Pat, said Mr Pearson is a well-liked pensioner who has lived alone since his wife Beryl died in November, though his family are said to visit him regularly.

She said: “We heard this almighty bang and like a muffled ‘woomph’ really. I leaned forward from my chair and I could just see pebble dash from below the upstairs bay window falling into the garden.”

She said Don ran across the road to help and, after getting inside the building, managed to force an interior door open before unlocking the front door with a key, allowing Woody and the other neighbour to get Mr Pearson to safety.

Others in the street also helped, moving their cars to allow emergency service vehicles to park as close to Mr Pearson’s home as possible.

Three fire engines and crews, from Blackpool and South Shore stations, were called out.

White watch manager Pat Thompson said they were faced with ‘a badly damaged house with both the first and ground floor bay windows missing, and the surrounding structures showing signs of collapse’.

He said: “It became quickly evident that an elderly gentleman had been rescued by neighbours who climbed in through the damaged windows, risking their own lives, and who had then led him to safety.”

Police closed the road while paramedics treated Mr Pearson. Firefighters from the Urban Search and Rescue Team helped shore up the home, which it was feared could collapse, while gas board engineers carried out safety tests.

A spokesman for Cadent, formerly National Grid, said: “We have checked our local pipe network and found no faults.

“We have now left the scene, with emergency services continuing their investigations into the cause of the incident.”

Police said the matter was not being treated as criminal, with fire officers leading the ongoing investigation.

Workers were at the badly damaged home yesterday assessing the damage. The house had been boarded up downstairs but not upstairs, where white bedroom curtains were being blown by the wind. Shards of glass lay in nearby gardens, as did various items from Mr Pearson’s kitchen. In his front garden, along with the rubble from the bay windows, lay green cushions, understood to be from his settee.

Black walking sticks could be seen through his porch window from the street, while the roof had ‘bubbled’ above one of the back bedrooms.

Several residents on Conway Avenue, a leafy side street off the busier Newton Drive, expressed their concern for Mr Pearson, who is a popular figure locally and often spotted walking to nearby Booths.

Woody added: “He walks to the shops most mornings. He is a great guy and a good neighbour.

“He won’t just walk past you, he will say good morning.”

Another neighbour said: “When I see him in the street he is happy and chatty.”

Writing on The Gazette’s Facebook page yesterday, Mel Harwood said: “I thought I could smell gas outside. Thought my nose was playing tricks on me. Hope he’s OK.”

And Ashleigh Duckworth said she saw a man, thought to be Mr Pearson, being helped into an ambulance ‘covered in bandages’ from ‘head to toe’.