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Fire leaves 70-year-old homeless for Christmas

Big Issue seller loses his oil paintings to blaze

21 December, 2017 — By Helen Chapman

Alan Lea and his dog Booboo

A BIG Issue seller has been made homeless this Christmas after a major fire at his council flat.

Alan Lea, 70, arrived back at the property in Belmont Street, Chalk Farm, to find his home of 21 years had been destroyed by the blaze. No one was harmed in the fire on December 9 but Mr Lea’s belongings, including his oil paintings of animals, have been ruined.

He said: “I put a load in the washing machine on for a half-hour wash. Then I left the house around 9am to buy more copies of the Big Issue which I sell for a living. My patch is in Covent Garden, they all know me around there. I got back and a woman comes towards me and says, ‘your flat’s on fire’.”

Mr Lea has been put up in a hotel in Hampstead while the council attempts to repair his home.

The damage to the flat

He has been told it could be up to eight weeks before he can move back in. Four fire engines and 21 firefighters were called to the blaze after a passer-by raised the alarm at 10.50am. The fire was put out around half-an-hour later.

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said the blaze appeared to have been “accidental” and may have been caused by a washing machine and an extension reel. Mr Lea and his paintings, which he sells on the street, were featured in the New Journal in 2012. At the time, he said: “I get animal books from the library and draw elephants, tigers, pumas, leopards.”

The council’s housing chief, Cllr Meric Apak, said: “Camden Council has a duty of care to assist our tenants if for any reason, either temporarily or permanently, they cannot remain in their property. “As well as providing alternative accommodation, we have our tenants and leaseholders support team available to offer practical advice and support when required.”


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