A FAMILY have been forced to flee their home after it was badly damaged by fire - just 15 months after it was gutted by a gas explosion.

The parents and two children were woken by their smoke alarm after a blaze broke out in the kitchen of their house in Rayfield, Epping, shortly after 2am on Friday.

They fled the house in their pyjamas and waited in their garden while two fire crews spent an hour tackling the flames.

The fire is the second disaster to strike the terraced house in recent months. An 87-year-old woman had a similarly narrow escape when she was dragged to safety after a gas explosion blasted out her windows and doors in August last year.

The pensioner has since moved into a care home and neighbours said the property had undergone a full refurbishment and rewiring.

Sue Kelly, 62, who lives across the road from the house, said she was woken shortly before 3am by flashing lights outside her bedroom window.

"I looked out and said 'what on Earth are all these kids doing out here?'," she said. "Then I said 'oh my God, they're firemen'.

"The guy gave the fireman a key but they couldn't get the door open. As they kicked it in, there was smoke billowing everywhere.

"They brought out a calor gas canister and left it outside."

Next door neighbour Peter Randall, 72, also witnessed the aftermath of last year's blast.

He said: "There was no bang, not like the year before.

"They was out on the street in their pyjamas."

He said he had not spoken to the couple since the fire and believed they had moved to London.

"They've been and gone twice, I think to take some things away," he said.

"I think they're not going to live there again. They had their car stolen when they first moved in.

"There's a lot of smoke damage at the back and a few items have been thrown out the front.

"It's a bit scary. It's becoming a yearly thing."

Mrs Kelly added: "I've lived here 50 years and the only thing that happened here was in 1978 when somebody had a car radio stolen.

"The house had had a complete refurbishment. It hasn't got the best reputation now."

Kevin Smith, sub officer at Ongar fire station, said: "The family had done exactly the right thing and before they went to bed, they had closed the kitchen door so the fire was contained."

The fire is believed to have been started by an electrical fault.