Hundreds remember firefighters at memorial service

Hundreds of people turned out at an open-air memorial service in memory of two firefighters, including one from Dorset, killed during a blaze at a high-rise tower block.

Residents of Shirley Towers, in Church Street, Southampton, were among those who gathered yesterday to remember James Shears, 35, from Poole, and Alan Bannon, 38.

Prayers, including A Fireman's Prayer, were said for them in front of more than 250 people, including colleagues of the dead men.

Silence descended during part of the service, which was organised by the Salvation Army and held in front of the block amid hundreds of floral tributes.

Shirley Towers resident Terry Marshall, 53, who lives on the fifth floor, said: "People were very solemn and it was very genuine. People are very sorry about what happened to the two firemen, we all are. I was lucky because I was in hospital recovering from open heart surgery when the fire happened.

"I came home to all this but we are the lucky ones. Our place hasn't been damaged, but not everyone on our floor is back in their flats, particularly ones near the lifts."

Karl and Kirsty Hoffmann were at home in Flat 72 on Tuesday evening when a curtain draped over a lamp ignited and the flat was engulfed in flames. The two firemen, of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, were among the first at the scene of the blaze in the 1960s, 15-storey block.

Married father-of-two Mr Shears and Mr Bannon, a married father-of-one from Southampton, died from exposure to excessive heat.

A joint fire service and police investigation is continuing to find out what caused the blaze and how the experienced men died. Fire chiefs said on Tuesday that they could not yet confirm whether "something went wrong".

Two other firefighters suffered burns to their hands while tackling the fire, which was contained to the one flat. All the residents were evacuated and none of them was injured. A date is yet to be set for the opening of inquests. Earlier this week, the families of both men paid tribute, calling them "incredible" and "our hero".

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