A woman was also killed while eight other residents of the sprawling council building were injured, one critically.
Roy Wilsher, deputy chief fire officer for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, paid tribute to Michael Millar, 26, and Jeff Wornham, 28, who lost their lives when they went back into Harrow Court, Stevenage, to try and save people.
"As you can imagine, it has sent deep shockwaves through the fire service. We are doing our utmost to support the family and friends of the firefighters who lost their lives.
"It is the worst day for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service for 30 years," he said. While the dead woman was not named, flowers began to appear outside the council estate addressed to Natalie. One said: "To mum, we will always love you. Can't be without you."
The fire erupted on the 14th floor of the block at 3am yesterday, leaving residents trapped in the burning building. The flames from the window leapt to the floors above. As choking smoke and sparks filled the corridors and windows exploded in the heat, more than 70 firefighters were brought in to tackle the blaze and help police lead 72 residents to safety.
Many ignored the alarm believing it to be the work of teenage pranksters and were caught in what one rescuer described as a "fierce, hell of a fire". Robert Brown, 54, an arthritis sufferer, was unable to make it down from the 16th floor alone. "I smelt smoke ... The next thing the windows were alight and all the glass came in as well.
"I was talking to a girl and she said go down the stairs, and I said I can't, I have arthritis. The next thing a big axe came through the door ... and two firefighters had to help me down from my flat," he said.
Michelle Camilleri, 33, said her family, including a young child and baby, were led down from the 15th floor. "I woke up my partner, Andrew ... We opened the door and there was a man standing there naked and covered in burns or soot. He was hysterical. He asked for a quilt and I gave him one and he left with the firemen," she said. The firefighters returned to collect her family. "It was sheer panic."
A critically ill man was helped from the 14th-floor flat where the fire started and Mr Millar and Mr Wornham from Stevenage fire station returned to the building when they heard there was someone else inside. One of the firefighters died in the building while paramedics fought in vain to save the other. The body of another person, believed to be a woman, was found on the 14th floor.
While initial reports suggested the fire was started by a candle, the fire brigade refused to speculate on the cause. Ian Paske, Stevenage Borough Council's chief executive, said that while there was no sprinkler system in the flats, the council had believed the fire precautions in the block were "adequate".Reuse content