‘Shivering in the streets’: Thornton Heath church saves tenants after fire

By Tara O’Connor, Local Democracy Reporter

A Thornton Heath church transformed into an evacuation centre in 20 minutes when a fire broke out at a nearby tower block.

Residents, who had been “shivering in the streets”, some just in their towels, were given a warm place to wait until they were offered a place to stay for the night.

About 60 firefighters tackled the blaze at Sycamore House in London Road on Saturday. It destroyed a flat on the second floor and caused two women and a child to be rushed to hospital with smoke inhalation.

A video showed flames roaring out of the second-floor window. All residents were evacuated and some spent a night at Thornton Heath Leisure Centre before being moved to hotels and temporary accommodation.

Pastor Clement Okusi, of Eternity Church Croydon, in Thornton Heath (Picture: Clement Okusi)

Pastor Clement Okusi was stuck in traffic on the M25 when he got a call from Councillor Janet Campbell asking whether Eternity Church could open its doors for residents who had to leave their flats when the fire started.

He said: “There were 55 people in their dressing gowns and shorts and vests and a couple on crutches and in wheelchairs. It was pretty sad to see.

“Within about 20 minutes of receiving the call, we had the evacuated people. They were down and depressed and very shocked. Nothing like this has happened before, it was a unique experience but we are here to serve our community.”

During the worrying hours, the residents were at the church, they put on Disney films for the children and food was donated by local Tesco and McDonald’s branches.

Cllr Campbell, who represents West Thornton, said: “It was awful. I got there at about 1.30pm after my stepson had seen the fire and ran home to tell me. People were in their dressing gowns, and some people were just in towels.

“They were extremely scared and shocked. They simply don’t know what would happen to their possessions. Some people had to go to A&E to get their medication.”

On Saturday night, Croydon council opened up Thornton Heath Leisure Centre as a “rest” place for those who couldn’t stay with family and friends.

On Sunday, the council said: “All residents are staying with friends and family or have been moved to hotels and the rest centre has closed.

“Council teams are checking everyone is safe and well, and working with the police and fire brigade to assess when the building will be safe to return to.”

The London Fire Brigade is investigating the cause of the blaze. Fire crews wearing breathing apparatus rescued two women and one child using fire escape hoods which protect people for up to 15 minutes from gas from the fire. 

Firefighters from Norbury, Croydon, West Norwood, Woodside, Mitcham and Wallington were called at 1pm and the fire was under control by 3pm.

Pictured top: Residents evacuated from the Thornton Heath fire were given a place to go at Eternity Church Croydon (Picture: Clement Okusi)

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