DESPITE watching her home going up in smoke, single mum Kay Gisbourne was counting her blessings yesterday after her precious children escaped with their lives.

Fighting back tears, she said: “I’d bought their Christmas presents; they have all gone but the main thing is that we will be together for Christmas. Our possessions are destroyed but they can be replaced; we could have died in our sleep.”

Now Kay, 32, her daughter Megan, whose 12th birthday was yesterday, and six-month-old Toby face the bleak prospect of spending the festive season in bed and breakfast accommodation.

Yesterday they were being comforted by close friends Shereen and Pete Lewis who gave them their bed for the night after a fire gutted the first-floor council flat in Anstey Close, Kinson.

Speaking just hours after the blaze on Thursday night, thought to have been caused by a faulty fridge, Kay said: “Thankfully the children got out but three of our four cats perished.

“We were in bed when the fire alarm sounded at around 10.15pm.

“We’d been at Shereen and Pete’s house earlier and come home laden with presents. I woke to see smoke in the kitchen and grabbed the children; I went back for the cats but only one survived.

“Three other families in the block also managed to escape. We were in our pyjamas, luckily one neighbour has a car and we put the children there to keep warm until fire crews and the Red Cross arrived.

“I’d been in the flat for around seven years so all my possessions were in there, including the Christmas presents and Megan’s birthday presents. The timing couldn’t have been worse and we aren’t even insured. It’s heartbreaking but the main thing is that the children are safe and nobody else was hurt.”

Fire investigation officer Mike Cox said the family had “a really lucky escape,” adding: “The flat suffered severe fire and smoke damage. Their smoke alarms activated and alerted them, giving them time to escape before the fire produced lots of thick, acrid, black smoke. Unfortunately three cats were not so lucky.

“Just before Christmas it is even more important to ensure your smoke alarm is working. With all the extra decorations, distractions and people at home it is easy to forget the extra fire risk.”

A Bournemouth council spokeswoman, surveying the charred remains of Kay’s flat, said: “The family will be offered a temporary home; probably in a bed and breakfast accommodation, until their flat is repaired. It could take a couple of months.”

Pete said: “They’ve lost everything; their Christmas has been ruined, but people are being very kind and offers of help are already coming in.”

If you can help the Gisbourne family ring Pete on 01202 570754 or 07534 407208.