A Swineshead woman who lost her mother in a house fire linked to illegal cigarettes has given her backing to a new fire safety campaign.
Julie Grant has joined forces with Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue and Lincolnshire Trading Standards to highlight issues with Jin Ling cigarettes and the dangers of not putting cigarettes out properly.
To coincide with the launch of a Smokefree Lincolnshire-funded video, which graphically shows how quickly this sort of fire can destroy a home and claim a life, Julie is, for the first time, telling the tragic story about how her mum, June Buffham, died, aged 71.
“The date will haunt and stay with me forever,” said Julie. “I’ll never forget hearing those words: there has been a fire at home and your mum is dead.
“The moments that followed were horrible. Why did this happen? How could I tell my son and daughter that their Grandma, who they loved dearly, was dead?
“Over the following days, there were so many visitors to the house - the Police, the Red Cross, the Vicar and so many family and friends all wanting to help in some way.
“The worst thing was being asked for a DNA sample to help identify mum. I just couldn’t understand why until the day after her death when I walked into the room with the Coroner.
“That sight and smell will not leave me…the room had been completely destroyed by the fire.”
She added: “I wanted to know why did the fire start? I wanted to hear that mum had had a stroke or heart attack and had died before the fire.
“But because of the lack of remains, the cause was put down as accidental death caused by a cigarette being dropped in her chair. Mum had not stood a chance. They assured me that within seconds Mum would have been overcome by the toxic fumes before the fire engulfed her - this doesn’t help the image I have in my mind.”
Dave Ramscar, chief fire officer at Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue and chairman of Smokefree Lincolnshire, said: “This is such a sad case, and one which we unfortunately see time and time again - some where people have sadly died, like in June’s case.”
He said in the past two years, all domestic fire fatalities in Lincolnshire were caused, in some way, by smoking materials, and, so far, this year, the county has seen another two smoking-related fire deaths.
“With this in mind,” he said “It is so important that we continue to educate and remind people - that if they choose to smoke - to make sure they put their cigarettes out, right out, when they have finished.
“We would ask that if you have elderly parents or grandparents, try to understand their smoking habits, and, if necessary, encourage change, i.e. not smoking in bed or when tired and, if you are concerned or need some advice, call us on 01522 580397. We can offer free home fire safety checks, where we will come give advice and, if necessary, provide specialist equipment, to reduce the risk of cigarette related fires.”
Emma Milligan, principal trading standards officer at Lincolnshire County Council, continues to work with HM Revenue and Customs and Lincolnshire Police to crack down on the sale of Jin Ling cigarettes in Lincolnshire.
She said: “This is a real priority for us. Jin Ling cigarettes are so dangerous because they don’t go out when not actively being smoked, potentially causing a horrendous house fire, like the case here. Since 2013, we’ve seized over 138,000 illegal and counterfeit cigarettes in the county, but we recognise that we need to do more.
“We hope that Julie’s story and the video can raise awareness of the dangers of this brand. Although they are cheaper than legal cigarettes- you can’t put a price on life, so please don’t buy them. If you suspect anyone of selling cheap, illegal cigarettes, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
For a full version of the fire safety film, go to YouTube.com.