There was a smell of gas when Jess Williams, a nursery school worker from south Wales, went into her kitchen on a warm June day in 2020. It wasn’t overpowering, until she reached for the oven.
“I touched the dial and it instantly exploded,” she told the Guardian. “It just blew the whole house up in seconds. It was just rubble.”
The catastrophic gas blast blew a gap in the Church Road terrace in Seven Sisters and was heard across the 2,000-strong south Wales community.
It was caused by a faulty regulator on a liquid petroleum gas cylinder outside, which fed the kitchen appliances. Unknown to the family it was pouring gas into the house, turning a family home into an explosive chamber.
Jess’s two children, now seven and three, were in the living room and suffered 28% burns and spent three weeks in hospital. Jess suffered 70% burns and spent 14 weeks in hospital.
“The blast was such a force it threw me back on the floor,” she said. “The fridge fell on top of me and trapped me. Any [debris] that fell, fell on to the fridge so it protected me.”
She was conscious throughout the ordeal and remembers screaming for help, which came in the form of Jeff Davies, a neighbour, who described finding only a couple of freestanding walls and a lot of rubble remaining of the house.
Her partner, Michael, arrived back from work to a scene of devastation. The boys were airlifted to Bristol for treatment and Jess was placed into an induced coma for a month in hospital in Swansea.
The past two years have been a long haul for the family involving rehabilitation and multiple operations to try to repair the burns and scars, tackling the mental toll and rebuilding their home with the help of the local community.
“Until it happens to you it doesn’t even cross your mind, but it is obviously more common than you think,” Jess said.
“Nobody is encouraged to have gas checks and that is something that has to be changed. If you don’t have a TV licence you get fined but if your gas is not checked, nobody cares. Yet it can mean life and death. Our lives are changed for ever because of this. I never thought to check anything on my gas bottle at all.”