An elderly woman has thanked a brave man for helping her escape from a burning building in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The young father ran back into a block of flats to wake up Eva Pearse, 88, who was sleeping in a first floor flat above the one where the fire broke out in Hatch Gardens, Tadworth at 12.30am.

Speaking at her home this morning, Mrs Pearse, who still found breathing difficult after leaving hospital this morning, said she would have choked on the smoke without her neighbour Damon’s assistance.

She said: "I was thankful because he helped me. We couldn’t see a thing going downstairs. It was thick black smoke."

Mrs Pearse could not hold a towel over her face because she was using her walking stick to go down and Damon followed behind.

She said: "The fireman was in front of me and he said ‘you are going to have to move a bit quicker’. It was so thick you could not see a thing."

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Damaged items outside the flat in Hatch Gardens, Tadworth

She waited in a neighbour’s car and a paramedic gave her oxygen before she and another elderly woman were taken to Epsom Hospital by ambulance.

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A burning cigarette is thought to have started the blaze in the bedroom of the other woman, Carol, who is known to be a hoarder.

Mrs Pearse said: "I was in bed. Somebody was knocking on my door but I didn’t realise it was mine. I thought it was upstairs. It went quiet then the banging started again.

"The man from upstairs was banging on my door and called my name. I opened the door and the stairwell was full of smoke."

Her neighbour on the first floor, who asked not be named, said she knocked on Mrs Pearse’s door after the woman who lives in the flat where the fire started raised the alarm.

She said: "I was banging but she could not hear. I was banging and banging but there was no answer. I told the guy who lives above and he came in. It was really brave."

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She said that there were no fire alarms in the communal areas owned by Raven Housing Trust and a door to the balcony on the first floor was locked.

She said: "If the little old lady had not been able to get out to knock on our doors, who is to say the fire wouldn’t have spread to all the flats. There were no alarms going off."

She said the woman, known to hoard keepsakes and pieces of junk, has now been released from hospital, adding: "She was really upset. She’s a lovely lady and lives on her own."

Ovidiu Velea, 31, who lives on the top floor, left the building with his wife, 65-year-old mother, five-year-old son, two-year-old daughter and five-week-old baby.

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The back of the flat where the fire started

Mr Velea said: "There was strong smoke, a strong smell. I was very scared. It was a nightmare."

He said that they joined about 15 to 20 people in the cold and then waited in their car for four hours because the fire service vehicles blocked the way.

He said his young neighbour evacuated himself and his young family before going back in to save Mrs Pearse.

Linda Sibley, who lives in another part of the block, said they did not have to evacuate the building during the fire and commotion.

She said: "You couldn’t go to sleep in case the wind started blowing the other way. We were lucky, it could have been a lot worse."

Of Carol, she said: "She’s a lovely lady, really sweet but she likes her knick-knacks."

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A spokeswoman for Raven Housing Trust said communal areas without secure access generally do not have fire alarms fitted and this one was deemed low risk in 2012.

But it was bringing in this week the independent company it uses to assesses these areas to inspect Hatch Gardens.

She said: “Obviously any kind of fire is very frightening for the people involved, and we’re thankful that no one was seriously hurt. Raven takes the safety of its residents very seriously."

She said fire exits are marked and the flat front doors are fire safe while residents receive handbooks and keys to the balconies.

She added: “I’ve not been able to confirm whether or not the resident had a smoke alarm, although our surveyor was told by one of the neighbours that fire alarms were going off.”

Do you know Damon who helped Mrs Pearse escape?

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