Firefighter in vain bid to save neighbours after suspected gas blast


An off-duty firefighter has told how he made his way into a burning house after a suspected gas blast and blaze which killed two of his neighbours.

Paul Archer climbed the stairs of the fire-hit property in Riddings, near Alfreton, Derbyshire, to search for casualties but was beaten back by flames and intense heat.

Police are not treating the fire in Valley View Road as suspicious but have confirmed that two bodies, thought to be those of a married couple, were discovered in an upstairs room.

Fire crews who tackled the blaze, which destroyed much of the building's roof, had to wait for several hours for the remaining structure to be declared safe before they could recover the victims' remains.

Mr Archer, who lives in an adjoining street, said: "I was woken up by a loud noise.

"It didn't sound like a massive explosion - it sounded like something big had been dropped."

After being called outside by his wife, who had seen flames at about 7.30am, Mr Archer, 48, put on old fire-fighting equipment stored in his garage, including a tunic, a flash-hood and fire-retardant gloves.

The father-of-two added: "The flames started straight away. One of the neighbours had got a key and they opened the back door."

A dog - thought to be a pet bull mastiff - got out of the house as the door was opened and Mr Archer, who works as a firefighter at East Midlands Airport, went inside.

"I made my way in shouting 'Can you hear me?' and the downstairs was really clear," he said. "I got to the bottom of the stairs, shouting again, and made my way up to the top of the stairs.

"By this time the house was pretty well ablaze - the front bedroom door was on fire but I was shouting 'hello, can anyone hear me?'"

Mr Archer also saw flames in a rear bedroom and feared the roof might cave in, eventually leaving the house via the front door as he heard the sirens' of the first fire appliances to arrive.

"I just thought I would try and do my bit," Mr Archer told the Press Association. "With our training, I might have been able to do more with the proper kit.

"I only knew the couple to say hello to. It's just very, very sad."

Speaking near the scene of the blaze, Chief Inspector Steve Pont said the bodies had yet to be formally identified but were believed to be those of a husband and wife who lived at the address.

An off-duty police officer also joined the neighbour and Mr Archer, who went to work as normal on Sunday night, in initial efforts to help the couple.

Mr Pont added: "There was an attempt to get into the property but unfortunately they didn't manage to reach them."

Describing the deaths as an "awful" tragedy, the senior officer said: "The fire service attended and found the house ablaze.

"They extinguished the flames and then found that the house was not safe enough to enter. We've been able to make the house safe and search the property and I can confirm that unfortunately there are two bodies."

Asked to comment on the possible cause of the fire, Mr Pont said: "There were initial reports of an explosion.

"There is substantial damage to the house. We can't say at the moment whether that's due to an explosion or the fire."