Village in mourning after fire kills three

Rescuers went back into house to search for second 'trapped' child
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The Independent Online

A South Wales valley was in mourning last night after two part-time firefighters and a five-year-old boy died in a blaze at a house in Blaina, Gwent.

Kevin Lane and Stephen Griffin lost their lives after going back into the terraced house in Zephaniah Way, wrongly believing that another child was trapped in the inferno.

Fire crews had been called to tackle a blaze at the house early yesterday morning and the two firefighters had forced their way through choking fumes to carry the boy out.

They went back inside after being wrongly told that a second child was trapped upstairs. They were on the landing of the two-storey council house when a massive explosion threw them to the ground floor.

The men, who both lived in the village, suffered severe burns and were pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr Lane, 32, was a factory worker and Mr Griffin, 42, was a chef at Blaina Hospital.

Daniel Harford, whom the crew had pulled from the blaze, died from smoke inhalation on the way to hospital in Abergavenny.

His mother Catherine Harford, 24, and his three-year-old brother, Joshua, escaped unhurt.

The volunteer firefighters were yesterday praised for their bravery by Terry Glossop, Gwent's chief fire officer.

"Tragically, there was no one else in the house but these two colleagues did not think for one minute of their own safety before doing their duty and going back into the building," he said.

"Firemen everywhere will understand why they went back inside and they will be very distressed by this tragedy."

Last night, relatives were comforting the men's families. Mr Griffin, a retained fireman for five years, leaves a widow, a daughter aged 17, and a 20-year-old son.

Mr Lane, who had volunteered for duty because of staff shortages, leaves a partner, a 10-year-old son and a stepson, 20.

His brother-in-law, David Bishop, said: "Kevin was absolutely devoted to the job and never considered how dangerous it can be."

Residents in Zephaniah Way also praised the courage of the firefighters, who are being considered for bravery awards.

Wayne Warren, 42, said of the men: "They were so brave to go in the house. It was like an inferno. But they risked everything - I've never seen courage like that."

Other residents described how flames and thick black smoke had already engulfed the building when the firefighters arrived. Seventy-two-year- old Iris Lane saw one of the firefighters desperately trying to revive Daniel on a blanket in the garden. "The house was all gushing smoke and sparks. It was terrifying," she said.

Another neighbour, Rob Edwards, tried to get into the house earlier but was forced back by heat and smoke.

"I heard Catherine screaming 'Daniel, Daniel, he's in there, please get him out'. Catherine was standing in the garden and was blackened from head to foot," he said.

A spokesman for Blaenau Gwent Borough Council said last night that all the authority's houses were fitted with smoke alarms. Tenants were contacted regularly to remind them to check that the alarms were in working order.

Flags at the council's offices were flown at half mast and will stay lowered until the victims' funerals. Bernard Assinder, who represents Blaina on the council, said that the tragedy was reverberating throughout the area.

"We are such a close-knit community - virtually everyone knows those involved. People do not always appreciate the debt we owe to those who man the emergency services. Those who died today exemplified that debt."

Shopkeepers yesterday opened a collection to aid the victims' families as investigations began into the cause of the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Blaina fire colleagues remained on duty last night ready to respond to emergencies.

Station Officer Chris Brown said: "If there is a call-out we will go as always. Everyone here is dedicated to the job and that is what we do."