I lit a fag… and boom!
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