A Shoreham family have lost everything they own after their houseboat was destroyed by a fire.
Firefighters battled the flames in Surry Boatyard from around 11.20pm on Saturday (February 1), working to stop it spreading to the jetty and other boats.
Eddy Wragg, 40, had lived on the boat with her partner Owen Judge, 30, and their 13-month old daughter Isla for over two years, but their world went up in flames in under two hours.
“We’re absolutely devastated, we don’t know where to start,” said Eddy, who works for a children and family centre.
“Literally everything we had was in there. We had the clothes on our back and Isla’s nursery bag, but that’s it. People have been so lovely and donated clothes and things, but we’re having to start again.”
She said they had previously lived in Emerald Quay in Shoreham, on the other side of the river, but sold their house and took a risk on a new lifestyle on the ‘idyllic’ riverfront.
Two and a half years later, the worst happened.
Eddy’s partner, Owen, said he returned from walking the dog on Saturday to find the boat already on fire.
Luckily Eddy and Isla were not inside, but despite Owen’s best efforts the family’s two cats did not get out alive.
After trying to save their pets, alerting neighbours and calling the fire service, Owen said he was powerless as the flames took hold. “It was out of this world – I just stood and watched my poor boat burn down,” he said.
There were several unexplained explosions, he said, after which the boat was soon engulfed.
The family are now in one-bedroom emergency accommodation, with Isla sleeping in a borrowed travel cot.
Eddy said they had been trying to maintain normality for Isla, but could tell she had been affected by the turmoil despite not knowing what was going on.
Amazingly, the resilient baby has taken her first steps during the ongoing ordeal.
Eddy and Owen have been unable to claim anything on their insurance as the fire service has not discovered the cause.
They will sift through the wreckage for any belongings tomorrow (February 6), Eddy said, but with Owen’s mobile phone and laptop destroyed, the family picture shown here is the only photograph they still have.
The community, and Eddy’s parents, had been ‘amazing’, she said, with many rushing to donate essentials to help get them back on their feet.
A fundraiser has already been set up, which can be found here www.facebook.com/donate/2540865736189728/
The fire service station commander for Shoreham, Partridge Green and Henfield, Giles Sparkes, confirmed the fire was still under investigation and said officers were working with Eddy and Owen to identify the cause.
He said other houseboat owners would be supported in the aftermath and offered advice for other homeowners.
“Our firefighters will be carrying out door-to-door fire safety checks at a number of houseboats in the Shoreham area following the fire on Saturday evening when a family sadly lost their home to fire,” he said.
“Understandably some residents will be concerned following this incident, but this type of fire is rare and there are a number of very easy steps that all residents can take to help keep themselves, and their homes, safe.
“Firstly, having a working smoke alarm in your property is the single most important thing you can do to give yourself the earliest warning of fire. Make sure it is tested regularly.
“All homeowners should have a plan of escape in the event of an emergency, but with houseboats it is especially important that you identify your route to safety and that all of your family know what to do in the event of an emergency. Make sure you have means of calling the emergency services in the event of an incident.
“The cause of the fire is currently under investigation and our fire investigation officers are working closely with the houseboat owner to identify what caused this fire.
“Firefighters will visit properties in the area over the coming week to speak with residents and address any concerns they may have.”
More information on home fire safety and some tips on keeping your family safe can be found on the West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service website here: https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/fire-emergencies-and-crime/west-sussex-fire-and-rescue-service/home-fire-safety/