Couple puts heartbreak to good use

01:58, Aug 16 2014
Spreydon fire
WARNING SIGNS: An elderly couple escaped a fire at this Bewdley St home and want to help prevent similar occurances for other Cantabrians.

Victor and Pearl Hewitt lost everything in a raging house fire, including the $9000 cash they were keeping for their cremation.

The fast-moving fire on July 31 at the couple's Bewdley St, Spreydon, home started in a chip pan left on the stove while Pearl was doing the ironing.

Victor, 89, a rear gunner in Halifax bombers during World War II, said he heard his wife, Pearl, 85, scream and ran inside to find flames shooting from the stove.

He threw a bucket of water on the growing fire, suffering burns to his scalp, before he and Pearl, both barefoot, were led away by passing tradesmen.

The uninsured couple lost almost everything, including drivers' licences, clothes and $9000 in cash - savings for their eventual cremation. "They ended up being very expensive chips," Victor said.

The couple are not complaining and want to thank all those who have helped them after the fire.


Pearl said the support they had received had been "overwhelming".

"Everybody who's contributed, we'd like to say how very grateful we are."

With the help of Age Concern, the Hewitts have been resettled in rental accommodation, which they share with son Terry, 57. The charred property will open to the public today, from 9am to noon, as an example of what can go wrong when pans are left unattended, even for a moment. .

"They [the fire service] asked us a couple of days after if we'd mind if they showed people how quickly what can happen," said Victor, who turns 90 next month.

"We thought if it can help somebody else to save themselves from what happened . . . it was a unique opportunity."

The house had been uninsured for about 15 years, Victor said.

The couple, who emigrated from Wales about 65 years ago and have been married for 64, decided they "couldn't really afford it any more."

Pearl, a former nurse, has not been back to the house.

"I couldn't bear it", she said.

Victor, a former shop manager, went gone back to see the damage with his son-in-law.

When he saw the ruins, he thought, "Oh God almighty".

"I came here with nothing and [now] I've got nothing. When we came out from Britain, it was just after war."

But the couple, who have five children, did not want to be pitied, he said.

"What we felt was, [there's] so much bad stuff happening and out of this a lot of good came, that was the main thing", Pearl said.

The section will be auctioned on September 18.