Mother’s terror as fire sparked by solar panels destroys council home

A mother has spoken of her terror as she raced to get back to save her child after a solar panel exploded on the roof of her West London council house.

NHS worker Tracey Adams, 49, was on the phone to her 13-year-old son Leo when smoke started to pour into their family home of more than 20 years during the blaze on 9 August.

Her family has been living at three different budget bed and breakfasts since the blaze gutted the roof leaving it open to the elements with the building declared too unstable for the family to return for their possessions.

It comes as an investigation by The Independent found that the number of fires involving solar panels has soared sixfold in the past decade. prompting concerns from safety experts who are worried about a lack of regulation on who can install them.

Ms Adams told The Independent: “I was on my way home from work, driving and chatting to him on a car phone. All of a sudden the fire alarm went off and he started screaming ‘Mum, there’s a fire in the house.’

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“I can’t explain it, it was so traumatic to not know what was going on. I just had to get back there to him. He was trying to leave the house when neighbours came for him. They saw all the smoke from the roof.

“It was so nice to wrap my arms around him. That feeling to know he was ok. He doesn’t want to ever be left on his own again.”

The roof of the house caved in after the blaze leaving the property open to the elements (Supplied)
The roof of the house caved in after the blaze leaving the property open to the elements (Supplied)

The solar panels had been installed in 2013 before being removed for roof repairs and re-installed a couple of years ago, the NHS admin worker said.

She added: “Apparently the smoke had been accumulating in the loft all day. The fire alarm kept going off but we thought it was because the neighbours were getting work done and burning stuff in the garden.

“I’ve heard of other horror stories about these solar panel fires happening more regularly.”

Lilly, the family’s cornsnake, was rescued by firefighters (Supplied)
Lilly, the family’s cornsnake, was rescued by firefighters (Supplied)

After the blaze, firefighters knocked on all the neighbours’ doors in Ferrymead Avenue in Greenford, to give their solar panels a safety check and turn off the power to 10 others, she said.

The brigade only managed to recover the family’s passports from the blaze but the mother is concerned because the roof is still not covered.

The family have not been allowed in to collect belongings, photos or clothing since the roof collapsed and have, so far, shelled out hundreds of pounds on temporary housing.

To add to the misery, Ealing Council has warned the family they may need to be separated from their 10-month-old puppy Teddy in order to get a new home.

Their corn snake was unharmed in the fire and is being looked after by their friends while the family figure out their next steps.

Leo with his beloved pet puppy Teddy (Supplied)
Leo with his beloved pet puppy Teddy (Supplied)

Ms Adams added: “We just want our home back or at least our belongings. It’s just completely out of our control. We didn’t have home insurance so we don’t know where to go from here.”

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson confirmed the blaze involved a solar panel and said the blaze was believed to be accidental.

They said firefighters had used PVStop, a black liquid polymer coating designed to cover solar panels like a liquid tarpaulin, to isolate power to 10 solar panels in the neighbourhood.

They added: “It works by blocking the sunlight that powers solar panels, so the process of converting light into electricity is stopped.

“The panels are then de-energised, and the risk of electrocution is greatly reduced so crews can get closer and prevent fire spreading from a roof to the rest of the building.”

An Ealing council spokesperson said: “The council has not yet received the formal report from the Fire Brigade on the likely cause of the fire, however this is an incident we are taking very seriously.

“There were no other incidents caused by solar panels in the previous year, though in line with ensuring safety, Ealing Council is starting to investigate all the Photovoltaic systems.

“This family is currently in hotel accommodation while we find a suitable accommodation. We have made two offers of homes so far and are in touch regularly with Ms Adams to keep her updated.

“The council is currently looking into what support is available for Ms Adams including the replacement of her lost items.”