DOZENS of people were forced to flee their homes after fire ripped through a block of flats yesterday.
Firefighters kicked down doors and carried residents to safety as people battled to rescue their families and pets at the blaze in Venners Water, Didcot.
The fire, which started in a top-floor flat at about 5am, left two people – believed to be a mother and child – in hospital.
Joe Sutton, 25, and his brother Tim, 17, were the first to raise the alarm and managed to run to safety with their dog, Skippy.
Recovering at nearby pub The Ladygrove, Joe said: “I was just coming in from a night out when I thought I could smell smoke.
“Then I saw all the black smoke. I went and got Tim and started banging on doors – I knew there were children in there.”
Tim said: “When the fire brigade arrived, they came up to the window on ladders.
“But I told them there was no way I was leaving the dog, I just couldn’t do it. So I got her in a bit of a headlock and we managed to get to the stairs.”
Firefighters said the blaze had taken hold of the three-storey building by the time they arrived.
Around 50 firefighters worked to wake up and rescue residents, care for those already outside and start tackling the fire.
Paramedics also treated a number of casualties at the scene for smoke inhalation.
About 40 people are believed to live in the block.
Sarah-Jane Goodchild and her daughter Abi-Jane, who had celebrated her seventh birthday the day before, were woken up by their neighbour banging on the door.
She said: “It was just panic. My neighbour was bashing on my door and then it was the firemen, telling us to get out now.
“It was a matter of just finding anything to chuck on, I don’t care that I’m wearing a dressing gown. At the end of the day, we are safe, we’re alive, and that’s all that matters.”
The cause of the blaze is now being investigated. Firefighters at the scene said it was too early to know if arson was suspected.
Residents are being rehomed by South Oxfordshire District Council while it is established when, or if, they can return.
Tracy Polatsoy and Georgie Martin escaped their ground-floor flat with pet cat Charlie.
Ms Polatsoy said: “I could see flames out of the window and heard things dropping – it must have been things from the top-floor flats.
“Then I could smell the smoke and we realised we had to get out of the building.
“We’ve been told there is an awful lot of water damage, so we are getting rehoused as I don’t think we will be able to go back.”
She added: “This isn’t exactly what we had planned for the bank holiday.”
All the residents were yesterday being cared for at The Ladygrove by landlords John and Tina Colthird. They opened their doors at 6am and served bacon sandwiches, tea and coffee, pet food for the
animals and hot cross buns donated by the local Greggs store.
Mrs Colthird said: “We are just doing what we should be doing, caring for the community.
“I think they are all okay. They are all stunned, but we are doing what we can.”
The adult and child taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital were not seriously injured.