A St Austell family lost everything in a horrendous house fire when their electric van caught light and blew up outside their home. 

Julie and David Hensby were alerted to the blaze in Ruddlemoor late at night on Monday, October 2. Their three children – nine-year-old twin girls Aimee and Summer and son Jay, 15, who is disabled and deaf – were asleep upstairs. All escaped unharmed, but within less than an hour, their home and possessions were destroyed.

They were placed in St Austell Travelodge but were expecting to move into new Ocean Housing accommodation this week.

Friends have been contributing to a GoFundMe page in a bid to raise £10,000 to help them replace their personal effects, which were not insured.

Mr and Mrs Hensby were alerted to the fact their family vehicle, a Vauxhall Vivaro, was on fire by a passing driver who stopped her car and banged on their door.

“I opened the door and saw the flames,” said Julie. “The lady said to get everyone out. I ran upstairs, and the girls came out – they had heard what was going on, and I had never heard fear in their voices like I did that night.

“The lady looked after them in her car while I went to wake Jay up. He wasn’t wearing his hearing aids and can be difficult to rouse, but once he came round and realised, he ran downstairs in his boxers and dressing gown.

“We just managed to get them out before the fire spread. Another 10 minutes, and we wouldn’t have been able to get to them – they would have been stuck upstairs.”

The neighbours’ houses on either side suffered smoke damage, and also had to be evacuated. “The electrics caught fire, causing a lot of explosions. Everyone was screaming,” said Julie.   

The Hensbys have been offered alternative accommodation, but it is unfurnished. As well as the GoFundMe page, they have been inundated with offers of furniture, clothing and toys.

“People have rallied around – they are absolutely lovely,” said Julie, who works for Tinies childcare. “They keep dropping stuff to us and giving us hugs. We’re so grateful to everyone for everything.

“The fire destroyed everything. It’s gutting. We’ve been back a few times to see if we can salvage anything. It’s heartbreaking to go in and see the girls’ things.

“And we weren’t insured. I kept saying I was going to. It’s my biggest regret.”

The car contained the children’s school uniforms, bags and new coats. Despite this, and very little sleep, the girls went straight back to school the next morning. “It was their safe space,” said Julie, “and the right place for them.”

The family pets include axolotls, a tortoise, and a blue-tongued skink whose homes were badly damaged by the fire. A tank has been donated for the axolotls, but the tortoise and skink require new enclosures and vivariums.

Vauxhall has been in touch to request details and images to help with its own investigation. Julie, meanwhile, says she will never trust an electric car again.

“There are no rules and regulations as to where you can put a charger,” said Julie. “Ours was by the front door. If that had gone up first, it would have been a major fire hazard – it’s the only way out from the stairs.

“The flames were coming out of the bonnet and got bigger and bigger. Everyone was panicking. It melted our plastic bin, my hanging baskets and plant pot, even the front door melted in seconds.

“It went up so fast. It’s so dangerous to have it so close to your home. It’s a major fire hazard and I didn’t know that at all. I’ve read about it since, and the fire service said they are going to more and more incidents like this.”

She added: “I’d urge anyone to make sure they have contents insurance, and a fire plan so they know how they are going to get everyone out of the house.”

Cornwall Fire and Rescue confirmed that two major appliances from St Austell and a water carrier from Wadebridge were mobilised to the scene, followed by appliances from Mevagissey and St Dennis as well as breathing apparatus support from Falmouth and an incident command unit from Launceston.

Firefighters had two breathing apparatus in use with one hose reel jet and a safety jet supplied by two hydrants. Firefighters had ensured the neighbouring properties were evacuated and the National Grid was requested to isolate the electricity supply to the property.

Firefighters confirmed that the fire was believed out at 00.09. The vehicle was destroyed, and the fire had affected both floors and roof space of one domestic dwelling.

Firefighters had six breathing apparatus, two hose reel jets, one safety jet in use. Crews were damping down and checking for further fire spread. A cordon was put in place around damaged overhead power cables.