Blind Florence escapes fire weeks before 100th birthday

100yr old Florence Desborough ant Cedarwood Fallls, Spalding
100yr old Florence Desborough ant Cedarwood Fallls, Spalding
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A registered blind woman who escaped unharmed from a fire that devastated her home six weeks ago was celebrating her 100th birthday on Tuesday.

Florence Desborough can see only light, dark and shapes – unless she uses her eyeglass.

She sensed her council bungalow had gone dark one lunchtime, realised it was smoke from a fire and fled slowly but surely to the safety of a neighbour’s home using her walker.

Her nieces, Jackie Colhun and Sheryl Allen, are doing everything they can to rescue and restore treasured possessions belonging to the loving lady they know as Aunt Floss following the fire in Crowland.

Her home will take many months to repair and she’s now living in a bungalow at the Tanglewood Cedarwood Falls Nursing Home in Spalding.

Sheryl said: “We don’t really know how she got out alive.

“She can see light and dark and shapes. She has an eyeglass and if she holds it right up close she can see through that.”

But the sisters say Aunt Floss knew her way around the bungalow well – and may have heard a smoke alarm as well as noticing it had become suddenly dark.

Jackie said: “She was as right as rain. The paramedics came and she was absolutely fine.”

The sisters say the fire started in a cooker hot plate, but they don’t know how or why it was switched on because Aunt Floss ate only microwaved meals.

She lived alone with help from carers four times a day.

On Tuesday, Aunt Floss had a big party at Cedarwood Falls and the family have planned a second party with around 70 guests on Sunday at Crowland’s Royal British Legion Hall.

Sheryl said: “She’s a lovely lady, actually, very gentle and very kind-hearted.”

Florence was born at West Pinchbeck and lived at Deeping St Nicholas before settling in Crowland in 1979.

She and her late husband Tom were together long enough to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary and received a telegram from the Queen.

That precious telegram survived the fire, although its frame was damaged.

On Tuesday, Florence was enjoying every minute of her party and was delighted to have a birthday card from the Queen.

When asked how it felt to be 100, she told us: “That’s what I keep telling people – it’s no different to being 99.”

Florence was on the land for most of her working life and spent about eight years at Geest, where one of her tasks was going to the bulb auction to help decorate floats for Spalding Flower Parade.

Florence was one of 11 children and has a surviving sister, Olive Stocks (93), who lives in Peterborough, around 50 nephews and nieces and many more great and great-great nephews and nieces.

And Florence’s secret for a long life?

“Hard work,” she says.