IT WAS her pride and joy.
But within minutes of a blaze starting, the garden Jill Jordan had lovingly tended for 55 years went up in flames.
The blaze happened in the back garden of a house in Totton where residents had been gardening and then set light to the debris.
But the flames licked fence panels and quickly turned into an inferno that put a whole neighbourhood at risk and forced locals to flee their homes.
Jill Jordan in her garden that was devastated by the blaze - including the 'lad pad'
Following the fire, only Jill's two gnomes - named Dick and Dom - remained unscathed, with plants, sheds and ornaments reduced to cinders.
The “lad pad” built by her three sons earlier this year to watch the World Cup and fitted out with a new TV and fridge, was also completely destroyed.
The 79-year-old, who cares for husband Len who suffers from dementia, had alerted the emergency services to the impending fire having already asked her neighbour to put the bonfire out.
She said: “I realised something was going to happen, the smell was terrible.
“So I decided to get my husband out of the house and call the fire service.”
She said she was reduced to tears by the extent of the damage, saying: “It's devastating. The damage is just horrific.
“There's got to be thousands of pounds worth of damage. This garden was my life's work and it's gone up in flames."
The 'lad pad' was specially built for the World Cup
Dozens of firefighters and police were called into action as a major operation got underway to stop the raging fire from spreading any further.
And there were tears as the enormity of the blaze was laid bare, with shed razed to the ground, conservatries damaged, gardens burnt out and windows of several homes shattered by the heat.
Another neighbour Julie Collins had been sunbathing in her back garden in Bishops Close which backs onto gardens in Northlands Road when the fire happened at 5.30pm on Tuesday.
The 41-year-old, who was home with her three-year-old daughter Leyla, said: “I heard the crackle of the fire, and the first thing I thought was that it was too early to light one.”
But within minutes mum of three Mrs Collins realised something was wrong as she saw flames lapping over the tops of the fences and sheds.
She continued: “I went upstairs and could see the man coming down with a bucket of water, but it wasn't going to stop it but then as it had really took hold.
“At that point I didn't think it would get to us, but with the heat and wind the flames just went along the fences.”
Mrs Collins described how she rushed outside to rescue the family's pet rabbits, which were in a hutch in the back garden before fleeing her home.
She added: “The patio doors were getting hot, and when I went out the heat was intense.
“When I picked my rabbits up they were hot - if I had left them there they would have cooked.”
- WITH THE hot weather predicted to continue throughout much of the next week, Hampshire Fire and Rescue has issued a warning to residents about lighting bonfires.
A spokesman from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's Community Safety team said: “We are currently experiencing extremely hot, summer conditions meaning that grass, fences and the like are all very dry at the moment.
“We recommend that people avoid having bonfires wherever possible, as a small fire can easily spread and become a much larger incident.”