Residents flee St Albans flats after underground car park blaze

The burned out car in the underground car park at Pembroke Court.

The burned out car in the underground car park at Pembroke Court. - Credit: Submitted

Residents of a St Albans apartment building were forced to flee their homes after a vehicle fire in an underground car park sent choking black fumes into the premises.

The fire service was called to tackle the blaze at Pembroke Court in Newsom Place at 4.26am on Tuesday.

But one resident said fire alarms in the building, which is managed by Hightown Housing Association, did not go off in response to the fire.

She told the Herts Ad: "We were woken by people and police on the ground floor and after seeing the thick black smoke we abandoned our properties. Why didn't the fire alarms go off?

"When leaving from the third floor our hallway smelt of burning plastic and rubber. Once the fire was out we returned to our homes but the place still smelt and was foggy with smoke. I called Hightown Association at 9am and they knew nothing about it ."

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said: "Two fire engines from St Albans fire station were sent to the scene, where crews found one car well alight in an underground car park. Firefighters in breathing apparatus tackled the fire and used high-pressure fans to clear the smoke.

"Crews remained at the scene until around 5:50am, when the scene was handed over to the police. An investigation is taking place into the cause of the fire."

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A Herts police spokesperson added: "The fire is currently being treated as unexplained and we are keen to speak to anyone who witnessed any suspicious activity in the area around the flats or in the car park itself, or who has any other information that will help our investigation.

"Please contact investigating officer PC Sally Milligan via email sally.milligan@herts.police.uk  or via 101 or report online at www.herts.police.uk/report quoting crime reference number 41/59859/22."

A spokesperson for Hightown Housing Association said: "We were first alerted to the fire at 9am on Tuesday 26 July and our Property Services Inspector attended Pembroke Court at 9.40am that morning. We also quickly communicated an update by email and letter to all residents about the fire in the underground car park.

"The safety of our residents is an absolute priority for us. Any resident can raise an urgent issue with us outside of normal working hours, by calling our out of hours helpline.

"Pembroke Court was constructed in accordance with fire safety regulations and fire service advice at the time. The fire safety system is intended to clear smoke from the corridors whilst residents stay put in their flats behind fire doors. There are fire action notices in the building about what to do in the event of an emergency and we are also in the process of reminding residents about these.

"We are aware that the 'staying put' policy has been criticised in the light of the Grenfell fire and therefore Hightown operates a stay safe policy whereby residents are to remain in their flats as long as they feel safe to do so or are directed otherwise by the fire service.

"We are assessing the repairs needed to the car park and arranging for these to be completed as soon as possible."