A woman cradles a baby in a Red Cross blanketWhen Billie Eidowu went to bed last night, she had no idea she and her children would be fleeing a massive fire just a few hours later.

“I was woken up in the middle of the night, about 4.30am and it was terrifying,” she said. “My first thought was to get the children out and we didn’t even have time to put on socks and shoes.”

People often talk about what they’d grab if their house was on fire. Photo albums and treasured mementoes often top the list. But as Billie discovered this morning, it was the kids and the mobile. (Read the rest of her story on our website).

I don’t think it’s too strong to say I grew up petrified of fire. In my southern California home, wildfires were a constant threat, and for some reason they were my personal bogeyman.

Fire burning housesWhen I was 17, the worst fires San Diego had seen for decades swept past our house. Friends living just a couple miles away had to evacuate their homes. I remember visiting them when the fires had been put out and seeing the scorched earth that ended just two feet from their back yard. The wind had changed direction at just the right time.

My parents thought we might have to leave suddenly, too, but they made it a game for me and my little brother (who’s now a firefighter). “What should we take with us if we only have a few minutes to get our stuff?” Dad asked.

Of course, I chose books and photos. I can’t remember what my brother chose. We all forgot the dog, poor thing. She would’ve been toast if we’d had to evacuate.

On the femail blog today, Flic Everett writes about asking herself the same question. The difference is that her home actually burned down in the middle of the night, and she and her husband had just minutes to escape. It’s an incredible story.

She says: “When it happened, there was no time to consider any epic final thoughts; just a vague sense of disbelief, a feeling of: ‘This can’t be the way I’m going to die’.”

A volunteer talks with a woman holding a babyThis morning hundreds of people in Peckham woke up to the same gut-wrenching fear. Very early this morning, several blocks of flats caught fire and more than 300 people had to get out right away.

In situations like these, British Red Cross volunteers and staff work to support the statutory services and local council. We’ve got emergency response volunteers staffing rest centres and handing out emergency items.

For Billie, even these items weren’t the most important thing the Red Cross gave her. “The Red Cross have been really helpful and supportive,” she said. “They’ve given us blankets, hot food and hygiene packs, but the best thing is they’ve come to talk to us, listen to what happened and assure us.”

Comforting words – sometimes they’re the most important things you can give.

Please have a look at our tips on fire prevention and safety so you and your family are well prepared.

Image 1 © Laura Hinks/British Red Cross

Image 2 © Felicity Wormwood/Flickr

Image 3 © Layton Thompson/British Red Cross