Tuesday, 20 December 2011


If you put wet wood on a fire, it spits. If you use pressure-treated wood on a fire it spits like Satan with a bad dose of catarrh. If you are putting wood on top of a coal fire you're an idiot. Fireguards are there to catch spits and crackles before they hit the carpet.

I knew these things when I was seven. I was allowed to build and light the fire in the living room at that age and trusted to be left alone with it long before that. Careless parents? No. Respect for fire and how to deal with the problems it might cause were drummed into me from as far back as I can remember.

Fireplaces were the only source of heat in those days. Therefore, anyone with children had to be certain their children knew all about the fire and its dangers. About the fireguard, why it was there, why it should not be touched. All of it.

This is not to place any blame on the mother who has lost four children to a fire. Not at all. These days, few people know how to set a fire and keep it going safely. It's a skill that must be learned and Greenery has ensured that two generations have no idea how to deal with it. I will not blame the mother in this instance.

Others will. But not for the right reasons.

Mr Hunter read from a statement given by Mrs Burrows in which she said: 'It was generally known that Rachel liked a drink and I used to see her with a glass or a bottle in her hand.
'She never used to hide it.'

Mr Hunter asked if she and her husband considered Ms Henson’s alcohol consumption above average and she said: 'Yes.' 

When she was taken into Mrs Burrows’ kitchen she said she was 'very vacant.' 'She asked for a cigarette and I said ‘We don’t smoke’. Somebody brought her one in, I can’t remember who. 'She opened the back door and I told her that she had got to come in and close the back door because the smoke was coming into the kitchen and she just fell backwards on the doorstep.' 

She is not being blamed for not understanding fire. She is being blamed for smoking and drinking. Evidence? Who needs it? Hearsay is good enough when it's a smoker or drinker in the firing line.

There is nothing to suggest that her smoking or drinking were in any way the cause of this tragedy. She fell over a step, but maybe her house doesn't have a step there so she wasn't expecting one. The neighbours who consider her drinking 'above average' would no doubt consider mine 'positively Satanic'. They objected to her cigarette smoke coming into the house while she was outside and rather than close the door, they insisted she stop. Nice people? I don't think so. I bet they do.

The likely cause of this was the actions of people just like those who try to condemn her for being a smoky-drinker. Those who have prevented children learning about that most basic of human skills, the safe use of fire. Without which we would still be huddled together in caves.

The woman has lost four children and what is the prosecution's case? Another case of smoking and drinking demonisation. She will be told it's her own fault. Is there anything more disgusting?

Give me at least half a bottle of whisky (good stuff, or I will not drink it) and point me at a fireplace and you will see a perfectly safe and correctly banked fire roaring away within half an hour. Drunk? Doesn't matter. This is subconscious now, it's been ingrained since childhood. Give me the rest of that bottle and then hand me wet wood for the fire and I won't put it on. It will spit, and wood should not be on top of coal anyway. Coal burns too hot to be supplemented with wood. One or the other. Coal or wood fire. Start as you mean to go on.

Again, it's set so deep into my mind that it no longer matters whether I'm thinking in words or in bottle shapes. I have never burned myself with fire. Once with phenol and twice with electric grills, with electric irons and other gadgetry, but never with open fire.

The problem here is not booze, and it's certainly not smoking. The problem is education.

Not school education. Real life education.

Handling fire is basic in a way that even learning to read and write can never be. Failing to teach children about fire is failing to teach them how to be human.

Have we really forgotten so much?


Bill Sticker said...

I'm afraid much has been lost regarding basic skills once taught at home. Perhaps the lady in question spent so much time 'off her face' because she was bored and didn't know how to constructively occupy her time?

kitler said...

Mrs Kitler's house had a fire a few years ago. It was caused by a dodgy toaster and spread because the kitchen was a untidy with laundry all over the floor.

In the only part of the kitchen that was untouched by the fire was an ashtray with three fag butts and three matches.

The police said it must have been a discarded cigarette and refused to change their opinion despite Mrs Kitler's protests that she'd only had 3 fags and they were all clearly still in the ashtray.

These days its either caused by smoking or causes unknown. God knows how any mystery will get solved once smoking is banned.

Anonymous said...

Lightening strikes are the biggest cause of forest fires in California. But after a recent major fire a few years back, legislators rushed to use that fire as the backdrop for passing a law, "just to be on the safe side", to ban outdoor smoking in all California state parks and state beaches. Especially important it be banned at beaches, in case the ocean might have caught fire. They blame smoking for everything these days. Whatever country is the first to have no more (known) smokers remaining (only hidden ones), then they will have to shift the blame over to something else and it will be difficult, since they blame smoking for EVERYTHING. It's disgusting. It's also obvious. But people like believing lies, so they believe the anti-smoking ones, since the propaganda makes it seem oh-so-true, even when it's not.

Animal Outrage said...

Absolutely anon 4:59, dog fouling is the new kid on the block, climate change, and accelerating senile problems with the elderly and the blame for 20% of postal workers going sick

Oldrightie said...

Our public services are staffed with ill educated and somewhat challenged characters today. Most training is little more than brainwashing. Common sense, you're 'avin a larf!

JuliaM said...

"The neighbours who consider her drinking 'above average' would no doubt consider mine 'positively Satanic'. "

And mine!

Neal Asher said...

It comes straight back to the simple: 'take away people's responsibilities and you make them more irresponsible'.

English Pensioner said...

I see that a report in today's Mail blames the high price of beer for the fact that pub sales have dropped by a quarter in the past five years.
No mention, except in readers' comments, about the more likely cause being the smoking ban. I'm a non-smoker, but if my friends don't go, neither do I.

Bucko said...

When I read the bit about closing the door because of smoke in the article, I thought they meant that the smoke from the house fire was coming in the door.

Also, all the descriptions of her being drunk - Vacant, staggering etc - They would easily fit someone whose house is on fire and kids are trapped upstairs. Shock.

"Dr Hunter asked Miss Murphy: 'Despite all the fire and smoke, you could smell wine?' She replied: 'Yes.'" Give me a break.

scoop doggy-doo said...


go shit on it and shovel you filthy beast

Anonymous said...

just curious....had her nipples fallen off yet?

george said...

I read that they had put wood on the fire that hadn't been allowed to dry out for over a year and was still damp. This resulted in too much smoke , poor burning and spitting of the wood.
This is a basic thing yet like you say leggy people don't seem to be aware of it.
I'm planning a woodburner so have been chopping and stockpiling wood for a few years now and extending my shed to keep it dry.

Woman on a Raft said...

Get the manual of fire management written down quickly then because, yes, we have lost those skills. The first will be: has your house even got a chimney and don't attempt to light anything until you've had it swept.

There must be many older houses where people are beginning to think about having solid fuel fires and yet haven't any idea if the flues are clear or the linings intact.

In your copious free time you had better write a factal book about the things you really need to know in order to stay alive.

boy-scout fire-lighting badge said...

this is just a bloody awful tragedy for a family - leg-iron and george have made some serious points regarding basic health and safety precautions and animal outrage and anonymous 12:05 should go and wee up another lampost.

Anonymous said...

"Fireplaces were the only source of heat in those days. Therefore, anyone with children had to be certain their children knew all about the fire and its dangers.About the fireguard, why it was there, why it should not be touched. All of it."

I can testify to the importance of fireguards, those big cage type ones in front of all fires, wood, coal,gas or electric.

When I was little,after I'd been put to bed, I sneaked downstairs to see my Mum and Dad, who thinking I was fast asleep had taken the fireguard away.

As I raced across the floor to hug them, I fell over my own feet as little children do and fell on the hearth.

My hand landed on a fire brick.
I still remember the excrutiating pain that lasted for days.

Luckily, Mum jammed my hand into a glass of water and kept it there.

My hand swelled up into giant blister that covered my palm and they rushed me to the doctor.

Because Mum had been so quick cooling down my hand, I only have one tiny scar on the second joint of the ring finger on my left hand.

When I started school at 5 years old as they did in those days, I found that other children had not been so fortunate.


officer chubb - blaze prevention team said...


well said that boy - this is not a discussion about freedom to defecate, nor is it an excuse to light up a whinge about anti-smoking propaganda, this topic is purely about inadequate hearth-management instruction, the resultant tragic carelessness, and setting fire to things in a responsible and orderly manner.

Animal Outrage said...

There is help available for anyone thinking of starting fires, you do not need to be alone with this, group therapy is a proven winner

andy5759 said...

Many is the time I have woken up on the settee after a messy night in the pub to discover the glowing remnants of a fire in the hearth. Having no clear recollection of lighting it, importantly though - the guard will always be in place.

James Higham said...

A well set fire is a joy to drink by.

Able said...

The only thing I took from this was the pure vitriol of all those people lining up to vilify this mother purely because she has a drink and smokes.

I hesitate to wish such an occurrence on anyone, but should they be the victims I hope they face equal vitriol for their own habits.

See what it's come to? Now any accident or crime suffered by a smoker/drinker is seen as deserved by those hypocritical b******. I truly despair.

jocelyn jack esien said...

whatever the reason for this deadly fire, be it drink, smoke, poor instruction, or desperately resorting to damp firewood, it's clear that the mother-of-four just could not cope. where was the welfare state when she needed a hand chopping-up and storing the only fuel she could afford?

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