Firefighters pay tribute to colleagues after bodies found in depot

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Rescue teams have found the bodies of three firefighters who went missing during the blaze in a warehouse in Atherstone on Stour, despite the search being suspended for several hours because the wreckage had become too dangerous.

Darren Yates-Badley, 24, Ashley Stephens, 20, and John Averis, 27, had been missing and presumed dead since they entered the blazing vegetable-packing depot on Friday evening to search for anyone who may have been left inside. A fourth firefighter, Ian Reid, 44, was pulled out of the fire but died later in hospital.

More than 200 firefighters working on the search operation gave a formal guard of honour as their colleagues' bodies were driven away at 10pm yesterday.

Speaking outside the warehouse, William Brown, the chief fire officer of Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "This fire will be marked forever in Warwickshire. Tributes are arriving from all over the world. Our hearts and our minds are with the families and we share their grief."

The first body had been found in the early hours of yesterday morning, said Chief Superintendent Ken Lawrence, of Warwickshire Police. Members of the nine specialist search teams announced they thought they had found the others just before 8pm.

Glen Ranger, the deputy county fire officer for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "I have been astounded by the commitment of our colleagues when they have been so emotionally affected. The services here have worked beyond what would be expected."

Part of the badly damaged building had begun to shift in the strong wind at midday and the search teams were pulled out amid fears for their safety. The severe structural damage had already led to a delay in the search for the missing firefighters, which began on Sunday.

Monitoring equipment has been installed to warn workers of any movement in the buckled wreckage of the roof and walls. A steel girder fell off on Monday.

John Hall, the deputy chief fire officer for Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service said the deteriorating conditions had given them a limited time to remove the first body. Teams found their missing colleagues within the first 30 metres of the rubble-strewn floor. Some 140 police are investigating the cause of the suspected arson, and have have questioned 160 warehouse employees and will speak to the 200 firefighters who attended the blaze on Friday.