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Helen thanks community for keeping her spirits up as she comes to terms with fire

Helen Tait outside her Sandveien home, which was ravaged by fire at the weekend. Photo: Shetland News/Neil Riddell.

A WOMAN whose council house and many of her possessions were destroyed in a fire at the weekend has paid warm and emotional thanks to those in the Shetland community who have rallied round to give her “the spirit to keep on going”.

Helen Tait awoke to the sound of a fire alarm at around 1am on Saturday and rushed downstairs to find a fire had broken out in the living room of her Sandveien home. It was caused by material forming part of a lamp that had inadvertently been pushed against a radiator.

“I got up and I thought my towel rail had gone on fire because I had just plugged it back in that night,” she said. “I got to the bottom of the stairs and saw a fire in the corner of my sitting room.

“I just grabbed my phone and ran out the door and phoned the fire brigade. Then I phoned my friend to get me a jacket and some flip-flops, and they were here not long after that.”

The living room radiator which the fire emanated from.
Although firefighters were on the scene “very quick”, by the time they arrived there was smoke going throughout the house and the whole of the living room was in flames.

Standing outside in the cold in the middle of the night as her home filled with smoke, Helen remembers thinking: “Oh my God, my lovely house. It’s going, gone. When I phoned the fire brigade, the fire hadn’t spread yet … but the minute they opened the front door, I saw the whole sitting room in flames.

“The sitting room has gone, everything is damaged in the kitchen, and there’s heat and smoke damage upstairs.”

She paid tribute to the firefighters who braved the flames to put the fire out, describing them as “my heroes”.

Forty two year old Helen, who had lived in the property for nearly 10 years, is also immensely grateful to everyone who has been in touch and to those who have pledged money to a Crowdfunding page set up by her friend Kirksty Bradley, which has so far raised £1,900.

A Facebook page, “Help Helen Oot After House Fire”, has also attracted pledges of essential goods from friends and strangers alike.

There was extensive damage to the kitchen.
Visibly emotional, and at times verging on speechless, Helen said on Tuesday morning that she had been left overwhelmed: “I’m just so grateful for everybody in Shetland that just pulled together and just helped me so much. They have given me a bit of my spirit back to keep on going.

“I don’t have a lot of internet access so I’m not [always] getting and seeing what people are saying – when I do get internet it’s 50 pings and I am trying to respond to everyone. So many people have been messaging me, and they’re just sending me love and support.

“I’d be a lot worse off mentally, but all these people are keeping my spirits up, my faith in people as well.”

The financial support has been a particular blessing because she had recently cancelled her insurance policy: “I’ve had insurance for years and every time a washing machine went, I got a new one; if my dishwasher went, I got a new one; if I needed a new carpet I replaced it.

“I was spending more money on insurance and not claiming. Shetland people have come to my aid and they’ve become my insurance.”

The SIC has acted swiftly to move Helen into emergency accommodation elsewhere in Lerwick for what could be a year-long stay, but she very much intends to return to the Sandveien address she has called home since 2008.

The visible damage to the front door and surrounds.
She spoke sadly yet proudly of the amount of work she has put into the house’s décor, as well as its immaculately tended garden.

Helen, who had cancelled her insurance policy, will thankfully be able to draw on Crowdfunding support to replace many of the possessions destroyed by the smoke and flames.
Helen’s birthday was on Sunday, certainly not in circumstances where she felt like doing any celebrating, but she hopes the repairs will be complete in time for her to move back in this time next year.

Earlier this week, her friend Kirksty described Helen as someone for whom it is “in her nature to help people”. You can donate to the Crowdfunder page here, and Helen says any money left over will be donated to Lerwick Fire Station.