A former Wellington woman bravely risked her own life to help rescue a resident who had fallen unconscious in an inferno.

NHS worker Elena Louise Veysey, 44, was walking to work along Beacon Lane, Exeter, at around 7.15 am when she became the first on the scene of a fire which tore through a block of flats.

When it appeared some residents were not awake to the danger, Ms Veysey, who said she could not hear any active fire alarms, rushed to alert them of the blaze by banging on their doors and shouting to raise the alarm.

Mother of two Veysey then began to help escort residents out of the building including a number of children. She said: "I was outside screaming, 'your flat is on fire, get out!'

"I was helping people get out, there were lots of children. I called the fire brigade and after that it was all a blur of adrenaline - at one point a window blew out and glass exploded everywhere."

Three fire engines were deployed from Middlemoor station and arrived on the scene within minutes. On arrival crews found the fire had come to engulf a first floor flat. Ms Veysey told fire fighters she believed their was a person trapped inside, and they began to try and force entry.

In an attempt to smash through the door firefighters crashed into it with a 16kg steel battering ram known as an 'enforcer.' But the fire brigade admit they struggled to get through.

Crews evacuated the woman with the use of a triple extension ladder which they used to access the property through a window. They rescued the woman who had fallen unconscious and she was taken from the scene by an air ambulance helicopter.

Ms Veysey was injured after breathing in smoke, and was taken in an ambulance to Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital for treatment.

The incident prompted a major response by emergency services, including police cars, two ambulances, an air ambulance helicopter, and three units from the ambulance service's hazardous area response team.

Fire Brigade officials said the flat was left completely destroyed by the blaze.

After becoming injured from the fire, Ms Veysey, who works two jobs, said she was forced to take time off and continues to suffer the impact of inhaling the smoke. She said:

"I remained in the hospital for four days until I was out of the danger zone for smoke inhalation. I have now returned home to recover mentally and physically.

"I am unable to taste or smell still, it will take up to six weeks to heal physically, and mentally even longer than that. The lining in my nose, eyes, mouth and throat has to grow and I struggle with breathlessness.

"My recovery will be long and slow and I cannot work."

The incident has hit Ms Veysey's efforts to get her 15-year-old daughter Eva to a major cheerleading competition in Orlando Florida.

In 2018, when Eva was a Wellington resident, and just ten-years-old, she was selected to join Exeter's 'elite' gymnastics squad. The well-known and talented local gymnast defied a diagnosis of epilepsy to realise her dream of pursuing the sport.

The fire incident remains under investigation by the Police, Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service and the Council.”
Eva in 2018 pictured with Team GB gymnast Louis Smith (Elena Louise Veysey)

Ms Veysey moved her family to Exeter to support the development of Eva's gymnastics career and works two jobs, as an NHS worker in maternity services and as a care bank worker.

She has now launched a Gofundme page to help raise funds for her daughter's Florida competition. Appealing for donations she said: "Eva has worked her socks off for this and we both have made huge sacrifices.

"As a single Mum working full time ( and more) I have exhausted all avenues to get her there. The cost of this trip is about £2,500 for flights, accommodation and transport as this is already heavily sponsored and fundraised. 

15-year-old Eva is now hoping to compete in a cheerleading competition in Florida
15-year-old Eva is now hoping to compete in a cheerleading competition in Florida (Eva Haliwell)

"Her trip will be around 2 weeks long so this is a fair, but unaffordable price for this once in a lifetime opportunity."

Asked whether fire alarms failed to activate in the flats, which are owned by Exeter City Council, a spokesperson for the authority said: "The fire incident remains under investigation by the Police, Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service and the Council.”