I lit a fag… and boom!

Real People - - NEWS - Sharon Druitt, 51, Southend-on-sea, Es­sex

There it stood in front of me, parked up in the car park of B&Q in my home town of Southend, Es­sex. A car that, right now, was my en­tire world. A sil­ver Ford Fo­cus, just like any other. But it had all my worldly goods in­side.

I was home­less, sofa-surf­ing at a mate’s un­til a coun­cil flat was ready. So the car was my baby, wardrobe and stor­age unit, all rolled into one.

‘Time to show it a lit­tle love,’ I’d thought. ‘Some TLC.’

So, I’d taken her to get new wind­screen wipers and have the oil topped up. Now, I’d been into the DIY store to buy some scented air fresh­ener, to spray on a yel­low wool blan­ket that I kept on the back seat.

‘But first – a fag,’ I de­cided. My five-a-day cig­gie habit was the rea­son why the blan­ket needed a squirt. But life was stress­ful!

With nowhere to hang my hat, and a boot crammed with my stuff, I needed my lit­tle vice.

So I reached into the glove com­part­ment, grabbed my pack of smokes and pulled one out, along with a lighter.

I flicked the lit­tle wheel on the lighter. It sparked. Then I touched the flame to the end of my fag and…


There was a blast of heat and an ear-split­ting thud as an ex­plo­sion threw me against the car door.

I lurched, dazed, my ears ring­ing and my chest heav­ing with fear. Had some­thing gone ka­boom in the back seat?!

What, for good­ness’ sake?

But hang on, now I could smell smoke. My heart kicked into a gal­lop of panic. And that’s when the pain ar­rived. It blazed along my arms, face and neck. ‘Aaaar­rgghh!’ I screamed. Then arms were some­how reach­ing for me.

They yanked me out of the car, which was now up in flames.

I don’t know if it was the shock, but things turned hazy af­ter that. I barely reg­is­tered the crowd gath­er­ing in the busy car park, or the air ring­ing with the sound of sirens as po­lice, am­bu­lances and fire en­gines raced to the scene.

All I can re­mem­ber are lit­tle snapshots of agony. Sit­ting in the B&Q of­fice… be­ing given mor­phine in the am­bu­lance… the high-pitched ring­ing in my ears, left from the whu­u­umph of the blast…

The next thing I knew, I was in Southend Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal, be­ing di­ag­nosed with third­de­gree burns on my arms and a burst right eardrum. My right eye was sore and the vi­sion blurry, too.

But I could see well enough to spot my long, dark wig, draped on the bed­side ta­ble and singed to what looked like a bird’s nest.

I wore it be­cause of the alope­cia I’d de­vel­oped 10 years ear­lier.

Now, the fiery blast had taken both my eye­brows, too.

‘You’re lucky that you were wear­ing that wig,’ the doc­tor said. ‘Other­wise, your head would have caught fire.’

My bonce could have been burnt to a crisp! Could I have

sur­vived that? The doc­tors gave me steroids to help me heal, but I was still in shock.

‘I-I can’t un­der­stand how it hap­pened,’ I splut­tered.

It’s not like it was un­usual for me to light a cig­a­rette in the car. I’d been smok­ing on and off for years.

All I’d done was put the air fresh­ener in the back and then…

Hang on a minute! The air fresh­ener I’d bought was in an aerosol can. Could it have ex­ploded when I lit the fag?

In­ves­ti­ga­tors were look­ing into it. It was a ter­ri­fy­ing thought.

Still trem­bling, I reached up to my face and gin­gerly touched my sore skin.

I didn’t have the courage to look in the mir­ror un­til the next day. Tears sprang to my eyes as I saw my red-raw face, and the bald bumps where my eye­brows should have been.

The po­lice came to see me in hos­pi­tal.

‘Do you want to see what you es­caped from?’ one of the of­fi­cers asked, show­ing me a photo of the wreck that had been my pride and joy.

My won­der­ful car was now a burnt-out, man­gled mess. The roof had curled back like the lid of a sar­dine tin, and the doors were twisted out­wards.

‘H-how did I even sur­vive that?’ I gasped.

The hos­pi­tal was buzzing with the news of my ter­ri­fy­ing or­deal and lucky es­cape.

‘You’ve been in the lo­cal pa­per,’ one nurse said. ‘It says the car wind­screen flew 30ft into the air in the ex­plo­sion, and you tried to run back into the burn­ing car for your hand­bag.’

‘I don’t re­mem­ber any of that,’ I frowned in dis­be­lief.

Thank­fully, a mate picked up a new £40 wig for me be­fore I was

re­leased af­ter two days in hos­pi­tal. Then I went to sleep on a kindly pal’s sofa. My beloved car was a to­tal write-off but, thank­fully, the in­sur­ance claim was paid im­me­di­ately. Ap­par­ently, the in­sur­ance com­pany had heard about the ex­plo­sion on the news!

Days later, I went to the lo­cal car pound to col­lect any­thing that was sal­vage­able.

By some kind of mir­a­cle, a bunch of pa­per­work that I’d col­lected while try­ing to work out my fam­ily his­tory, and my lovely yel­low blan­ket, had es­caped be­ing dam­aged.

But the clothes and shoes that had been in the boot had all been cre­mated.

Now, seven weeks on, the burns on my arms and face have healed, but my ears are still ring­ing and I’m strug­gling to hear things prop­erly.

I still don’t know if my eye has been in­jured, and I need to go back to the doc­tor to find out.

But it’s the scars you can’t see that are more se­vere.

I have panic at­tacks when I go out, be­cause I’m so scared that some­thing will ex­plode be­hind me.

At the mo­ment, I’m too fright­ened to even sit in a car, let alone buy a new one.

For now, I’m stick­ing with the bus and plain old Shanks’s pony. It feels safer.

I still can’t be­lieve this freak ac­ci­dent hap­pened to me.

But I don’t want any­one to feel sorry for me.

I just want to warn peo­ple that these things can hap­pen. And I pray it doesn’t hap­pen to any­one else.

The roof curled back like a sar­dine tin

Sharon has do­nated her fee for this story to char­ity.

A probe by Es­sex County Fire & Res­cue Ser­vice found no ev­i­dence of a leak from the aerosol can. Di­vi­sional of­fi­cer Justin Ben­son-ryal said, ‘In­ci­dents like this are ex­tremely rare, but it is im­por­tant for ev­ery­one to be aware how flammable aerosol cans can be.’

A B&Q spokesman wished Ms Druitt ‘a quick re­cov­ery’ and noted the find­ings of the fire bri­gade.

The ex­plo­sion turned my car into a deadly in­ferno Saved by the wig: My bar­net shielded me from the flames

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