A FAMILY has been left homeless weeks before Christmas after their washing machine exploded with such force the children were thrown across the room.

Nursing student Natalie Proud was watching festive film The 12 Dates Of Christmas with her four young daughters when the machine caught fire. Smelling smoke, the 30-year-old, from Crook, opened the door of the laundry room just as it exploded occurred, knocking her children of their feet and shattering a nearby window.

As a fire broke out following the explosion, Miss Proud, who has lived in the privately rented house in Gladstone Street for two years, evacuated her traumatised daughters and pet dogs, Gemz the Chihuahua and Destiny the Old English Bulldog, from the property.

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Firefighters spent two hours tackling the blaze, and managed to rescue the family’s cat, Milo.

The fire destroyed all the family’s possessions, including the children’s Christmas presents, sentimental photographs and a comfort teddy, which 11-year-old Demi-Leigh has treasured since she was a baby.

Miss Proud had been washing her children’s school uniforms on Sunday afternoon ready for the week ahead when the machine, which was just over a year old, caught fire.

“I feel like I have lost everything and that we don’t belong anywhere anymore,” said Miss Proud. “Trying to explain to the children that we can’t go home is awful. They are devastated.

“We only have what we had on and the children weren’t even wearing shoes. It is heartbreaking, especially as it has happened before Christmas.”

Since the fire, an online appeal has been set up to raise money to replace the children’s Christmas presents and essential items.

Miss Proud’s friend, Rachael Stoves, set up the page and has been overwhelmed by the response, with more than £620 raised so far and countless donations of clothes and presents.

The team at Robinsons estate agents in Crook have been working to find the family a new home in time for Christmas; staff and parents at Hartside Primary School in Crook are sorting out replacement uniforms; and the Duke of York Inn in Fir Tree has invited the family to have a free meal.

Ms Stoves said: “Natalie is my best friend and it’s unbearable to see her go through this. We have been overwhelmed by the response from the community. People have been so generous. I’ve received so many messages on Facebook from people offering to help or bring donations.”

Miss Proud and two of her children have been staying with Ms Stoves in Billy Row since the fire. The other children are staying with their uncle nearby.

Miss Proud: “Everybody has been amazing. It means so much to us.”

A spokesman for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) confirmed the fire was located at the washing machine.

He said the cause of the blaze cannot be established due to the extent of the damage.

  • CDDFRS recommends everyone registers electrical appliances so that manufacturers can provide safety advice or inform people about product recalls. To register an appliances for free, visit registermyappliance.org.uk
  • To support the appeal, visit gofundme.com/zcyx7q-home-for-christmas
  • Donations of other items are also welcome. Contact Ms Stoves on 07891-607947.