When Alyssa May was dishing up roast potatoes with relatives in East Preston on Christmas Day, she had no idea that just two days later a fire would leave her and her three children homeless.
“It was such a good Christmas, we were all having such a good time,” she said.
The family returned to their home in Maxwell Road, Littlehampton, on Wednesday, December 27, and Alyssa spent the day cleaning and sorting through presents.
She was checking on her two youngest children napping upstairs at around 5pm when the fire alarm went off.
She said: “I went to look out the door and there were flames coming up the stairs.”
She grabbed her two-year-old, Bella-Rose, and went to get her son, Michael, who is four months old.
Michael was wearing a fluffy elf suit which made Alyssa panic – “I thought, if the flames touch him the suit will just go up.” So she threw a bottle of milk all over him and fled the house with her children in her arms.
Neighbours congregating outside the burning house asked Alyssa where her seven year-old daughter, Lilly-Nevaeh, was.
And although her daughter was out with her father, Alyssa said: “My brain went into overdrive. I had to check.”
As she ran back into the house, the curtain rail fell and caught her arm, and her dressing gown and slippers went up in flames.
“Apart from that I don’t remember much,” Alyssa said. “My neighbours down the road put me in the bath, then I was put in an ambulance.”
Alyssa suffered third degree burns to her chest, feet and wrists – but her family was safe.
“People kept saying to me, your a hero,” she said. “But I’m not, I’m just a mum who had to get her kids out. I’d do it a hundred times over.”
It had taken just 60 seconds for the fire, sparked by faulty fairylights on the Christmas tree, to engulf their home.
“I was so proud of my home, it’s where I brought my kids up,” Alyssa said.
“It was clean, welcoming and bright. Now it’s blackened, it’s like haunted house. It’s so devastating.”
But she said she was determined to stay strong for her children and focus on ‘moving forward’.
Recalling her first conversation with her daughter Lilly, she said: “When I came out of hospital I told her – we’ve lost everything, all your presents. “And she just said – mum, we’ve got eachother. You know you’ve done something good in life when your seven-year-old comes out with that.”
The family are now staying in council-provided emergency accommodation at a B&B and have ‘no idea’ when they will be able to find a more permanent home.
Alyssa thanked the public for the ‘amazing’ response after close friend Lucy Holt appealed for donations.
She said: “Within 24 hours I was able to provide for all three of my kids. We had clothes on our backs and I could keep them in a routine.
“I’ve got so much respect for the community in Littlehampton. It makes me proud to be a part of this place.”
Alyssa hopes that sharing her experience will encourage others to check they have a working fire alarm in their homes.
“If this can get even one person to install a working fire alarm, I would be happy,” she said.
Alyssa is also demanding a solution to the parking problems in the area, highlighted by residents in the Gazette last week.
“The fire service had a lot of problems, they could’ve got to us a lot sooner,” she said.
“Something drastically needs to be done.
“It’s going to cost a life one day. It could’ve been me and the kids.”