Firefighter killed in suspected arson attack

A fireman killed in an explosion in a blazing community centre may have been the victim of arsonists.

Richard Jenkins, 28, was the first fireman to enter the building in the Ely area of Cardiff as it was engulfed in flames up to 30-feet high at about 1am yesterday. He appears to have been almost immediately caught by a large explosion, which may have been caused by a gas bottle caught in the fire.

Two other firefighters received facial burns as they dragged Mr Jenkins, who had two children, out of the disused community centre, known locally as the "Old Bingo Hall".

Neighbours heard noises like fireworks as the blaze swept through the building. Haydn Harries, 74, said: "I was in bed when I heard a bang. It sounded like fireworks. I thought, 'What mad person is doing that?' When I opened the door and looked up, there was a raging fire 20 to 30 feet high."

Youngsters had been seen hanging around the area at the time, but not in the immediate vicinity of Old Bingo Hall.

Detective Chief Inspector Brent Parry, of the South Wales Police, said: "Officers are treating this at the same level as a murder inquiry.We are aware of sightings of youths in the area before the fire started and we are following up those reports."

Mr Jenkins, of Bridgend, was married with a son aged nine and a six-year-old daughter. He was due to stand as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the local council elections on 10 June for the Sarn ward of Bridgend.

He worked as a firefighter for the London Fire Brigade for seven years before moving to south Wales two years ago.

Cheryl Green, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Bridgend Council, said Mr Jenkins was married to her niece: "They were a very happy family, their world has been ripped apart."