A man who suffered third degree burns to 70 per cent of his body in a caravan fire says it was the best thing that ever happened to him because it meant he turned his life around.
Reece Chesterman, 30, from Yeovil, Somerset, was homeless, addicted to drugs and begging on the streets before the horror blaze.
He lost his eyelids, most of the skin on his back and needed multiple surgeries to recover.
But Reece says he couldn’t be happier because it meant he finally got clean, found a girlfriend and is now looking at employment opportunities for the first time in his adult life.
Reece Chesterfield, 30, from Yeovil, Somerset, reconnected with his girlfriend, Charley, after moving back to his hometown. A recent picture of Reece with his partner Charley on a day out
Reece’s 3rd degree burns, including his eyelids which were so damaged in the blaze that he couldn’t close his eyes.
The aftermath of the caravan fire. Reece is still unaware of what caused the fire and no charges have been filed
And he is convinced if the fire hadn’t taken hold that day in March 2019, he would be dead by now.
‘It seems a weird thing to say but it was probably the best thing to happen to me because it’s turned my life round for the best,’ Reece said.
He’s now sober and lives with his girlfriend Charley, who he says has uplifted him in ways he didn’t think possible.
Reece doesn’t remember any of the caravan fire but witnesses have said they heard groaning in the blaze, prompting one passerby to pull the door off and drag him out.
Reece and his girlfriend love to go to the beach, but Reece has to smother his skin in factor 50 suncream and sit in the shade. Pictured recently
The fire brigade spent 20 minutes hosing Reece’s body down when they arrived at the blaze in Bristol, fearing he wouldn’t make it. Pictured: His burns in the hospital
Reece suffered burns that covered 70 per cent of his body. He describes the bandage changes as unbearably painful
He was already so badly burnt that the skin on his back stuck to the carpet as he was pulled along.
The fire brigade spent 20 minutes hosing Reece’s body down when they arrived at the blaze in Bristol, fearing he wouldn’t make it.
Reece’s only memories of that period are vivid coma dreams about nurses stealing his gold and waking up intermittently in an intensive burns unit to see estranged family members at his bedside.
‘I could see in people’s faces that it was bad because they were very upset,’ he recalled.’
Reece suffered third degree burns and admitted that adjusting to his new face was hard to come to terms with
Reece’s caravan after the fire, he was sleeping when the blaze engulfed him and his moving home
Reece spent four months in the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in Swansea, undergoing skin grafts and surgery. Pictured as he is now
‘I shouldn’t have lived. Doctors said I was a miracle.’
Reece spent four months in the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in Swansea, undergoing skin grafts and surgery, but says bandage changing was the worst experience of them all.
‘Bandage changing was the most horrific thing I’ve ever been through in my life,’ he said.’
‘It was agony. It was like they were peeling off my skin every time.’
Reece’s caravan after the fire. Witnesses have said they heard groaning in the blaze, prompting one passerby to pull the door off and drag him out
Reece’s caravan before the blaze. He is convinced if the fire hadn’t taken hold that day in March 2019, he would be dead by now
Reece is now bald as a result of his third degree burns and has accepted it, but will be ge6tting surgery to reconstruct his eyebrows
Reece had to get his bandages changed every day and begged the nurses to do it during his surgeries so he didn’t have to go through the trauma.
His eyelids had melted off in the fire, meaning his eyes were permanently open and he had to roll his eyeballs to the back of his head to sleep.
His vision is permanently damaged due to this.
Doctors constructed new eyelids for Reece by harvesting skin from his neck.
Reece said his first time looking in the mirror after the blaze was a huge shock but he tried to focus on the fact he was lucky to be alive.
Reece with a friend when he was homeless. His now-girlfriend Charley used to give him money when he lived on the streets
Reece described his hospital treatments as feeling like his skin was being peeled away from his body. Left: The wounds on Reece’s scalp after the fire
The long-term effects of his burns are pain walking, thick scars that turn purple in the winter due to lack of circulation and poor eyesight.
After the fire, Reece went back to his hometown of and reunited with his now-girlfriend Charley, 21, a friend who used to check in on him and give him money when he was homeless.
As their two-year anniversary approaches in December, Reece says he and Charley are smitten with each other.
‘I never thought I’d have a girlfriend ever again because I’m so burnt,’ he said.
Reece thought no one would love him after being burned until he found his current girlfriend. Reece’s 3rd degree burns after being in the hospital
WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT OF A FIRE
1. Stay Calm
2. Alert everyone inside the house
3. Using pre-planned escape route, get everyone out as quickly as possible. Do not delay by gathering possessions. You need to act quickly.
4. Try to keep windows and doors closed when evacuating (only open them to escape) – if possible close the door to the room where the fire is located and close all doors behind you – this will delay the spread of fire
5. Never use a lift
6. If there is a lot of smoke stay close to the floor – smoke rises so the lower air is cleaner and easier to breathe
7. If you are unsure as to the whereabouts of the fire, make sure you check doorknobs with the back of your hand before opening it (the fire could potentially be on the other side).
8. Calling 999
- Once you are outside and safe, call 999
- Give your full address, details of where you are
- Details of the building on fire
- Details of anyone still inside and there whereabouts (if known)
9. Don’t go back into the building. Wait for the FRS to arrive. By going back into the building you may hinder the FRS efforts to put out the flames, and put your life at risk.
Source: Fire Angel
‘But she just treated me like I was completely normal and loved me. She didn’t think anything of my scars, if anything, she loves them.’
‘She’s made me feel normal. I was so anxious about going out but she gave me the confidence to go back out.
‘Now, we can do anything and I don’t care if people look at me.’
The couple love to go to the beach, but Reece has to smother his skin in factor 50 suncream and sit in the shade.
Reece said he has embraced being bald after losing his hair in the blaze but is getting new eyebrows constructed through a burns charity.
The fire was investigated but no cause was found and no-one was ever charged.