Kelly Gilbert, 40, from Potton, Bedfordshire shares her shocking story...
‘Bye, Mum!’ cried my eldest daughter Chloe, 12, as she and her sister Emily, 9, headed out the front door to school.
‘Bye, girls,’ I smiled wearily, propping baby Olivia, 4 months, on my hip.
As a single mum, up several times a night with the baby, I was exhausted.
Yawning, I shut my British bulldog Milly and Lhasa apso Archie in the kitchen and trudged upstairs.
I put Olivia in her cot beside my bed. She was sleeping soundly at last.
Within minutes of stripping off and snuggling back down underneath my duvet, I was in a deep sleep, when…
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!
Struggling to come round, I realised it was the smoke alarm!
I ran downstairs. In the kitchen, smoke was everywhere. I opened the French windows, and the dogs shot out into the garden, tails between their legs but OK.
Then I turned round to see a thin trail of black smoke coming from the cupboard under the stairs.
‘Oh, my God!’ I cried, lurching forward and pulling the door wide open.
There was an angry flash of red, as flames flew out at me from the overheated cupboard light, inches from the top of my head.
Screaming, I ran upstairs and grabbed Olivia.
‘It’s OK, but we need to get out of here,’ I said, rushing out of the house as fast as I could.
With the sound of smashing glass and sizzling flames behind me, I didn’t look back.
‘My house is on fire! Help!’ I panicked, banging on my neighbour’s door.
Shivering in my knickers and vest top in their living room, I held Olivia tight.
I was in complete shock.
The next hour was a blur of sirens, firefighters and neighbours crowding round me, handing me clothes and flip-flops, and herding the dogs inside.
‘My beautiful home!’ I wept, too scared to watch the flashes of orange and plumes of smoke.
What would I tell the girls? I’d bought our four-bedroom house in 2003, and it was the only home they’d ever known.
I’d only just finished Olivia’s nursery, with brand-new furniture and toys I’d painstakingly saved up for over the last 18 months.
With the blaze out, it was time to face what was left of our house. Stepping outside, I tried to hold back the sobs.
My lovely home looked like a bomb had gone off – all the windows were smashed and the window frames downstairs had completely melted.
But, when I stepped through the front door, the inside was even worse. Everything was black, and a disgusting smell of soot and smog filled the air.
Room after room was completely destroyed.
Later, reuniting with the girls, we were all distraught. The last few months have been a living nightmare.
Apart from a few bits we managed to rescue, pretty much all our worldly belongings have gone.
At least I had insurance…but nothing can replace the personal things we’ve lost.
I had to throw out all Olivia’s baby clothes, her brand-new cot, blankets and bedding, and the older girls’ toys and beloved dolls.
We’ve been living in temporary accommodation since, just taking each day as it comes, and we’re hoping to move back into our home in April.
Yet, despite how hard it’s been, I know things could have been so much worse. If it hadn’t have been for the smoke alarm, my baby girl and I wouldn’t be here today.
We’re so lucky we all still have each other.