‘Two hours earlier and we’d be dead’: smoke alarm warning after horsebox ‘destroyed’ by fire

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  • The owner of a horsebox that was destroyed inside by a fire while parked at a show has urged others to fit smoke detectors – as “if it had happened two hours earlier, we’d be dead now”.

    Sarah Knight was at Aintree International Equestrian Centre last week, with her head groom Maria Neal, for the British Showjumping Dodson & Horrell National Amateur and Veteran Championships, and it had been an eventful show even before her lorry caught fire.

    “It was one of those weeks; if you’d told me what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Sarah told H&H.

    Sarah arrived on Tuesday (8 November) and within hours had to go to A&E as she cut an artery in her arm while trying to cut a cable tie off a new mop for the lorry – but undeterred and with her injury glued, she was on her horse to jump the following day.

    “I fell off in the ring on day two, so didn’t jump on Thursday, and we went to The Range to buy new tea-towels, as I’d used them all to stop the bleeding in my arm, and cushions for the lorry as there was blood everywhere,” she said. “On Friday, I think the atmosphere had got to my horse and I retired, so we were going to come home on Saturday.”

    The lorry was packed up for the return journey to Windsor on Saturday morning, the stable mucked out, and Sarah and Maria went to have a coffee before she left.

    “Then the phone rang,” she said. “They asked if I was at Aintree, and for my lorry registration, and then said ‘Your horsebox is on fire’. We ran out and all we could see was smoke.”

    The fire brigade had arrived by the time Sarah reached her lorry and the outside looked relatively unscathed.

    “But the inside was destroyed; there’s nothing left,” she said. “The investigators came out and found that there was a loose AA battery in a cupboard and it must have touched something metal; apparently if both the positive and negative terminals touch metal, the battery can heat up and combust. They said it was a one in a million chance.”

    Sarah added that her partner is a lorry mechanic, so her box is frequently serviced and thoroughly checked before each use.

    “Thos batteries had been in there since I’ve owned the lorry,” she said. “It had been parked up since the Tuesday and I don’t even use that cupboard. The frightening thing is that if it had happened two hours earlier, when we were asleep inside, we’d be dead as we wouldn’t have got out in time.”

    Sarah said the fire investigators asked those gathered round how many of them had smoke alarms in their lorries.

    “No one did,” she said. “He said they’re compulsory for homes but not for lorries and caravans – but I think everyone there went straight on Amazon and ordered them.

    “If we’d had one, it wouldn’t have stopped the lorry going up but if we’d been asleep in there, it would have saved our lives – and if it had been two hours later, we’d have been on the motorway coming home, and might have meant I got my horse out in time.”

    Sarah also has a smaller lorry, and a friend drove it the five hours from Windsor to take her horse Tommy home. The burned lorry is being checked for structural and mechanical soundness, in hopes it will live to drive another day.

    “On the way home Maria said she suddenly realised what would have happened if we’d been asleep at the time,” Sarah added. “Smoke alarms don’t cost much, and one could have saved us.”

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