'We're proud of Fleur ... She died doing what she wanted'

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A firefighter was killed by falling debris yesterday as she searched for shoppers inside a blazing supermarket.

Fleur Lombard, a 21-year-old single woman, became the first female firefighter to die on duty in Britain when part of the roof of Leo's Supermarket in Staple Hill, north Bristol, collapsed on top of her. A male colleague was also pinned under the debris.

Both were dragged clear by fellow firefighters as flames took hold but Miss Lombard was already dead. Her colleague was taken to hospital but was allowed home later. It emerged last night that all customers and staff at the store had evacuated, but that was not known to the brigade officers when they arrived on the scene.

Avon fire brigade was in a state of shock last night. Miss Lombard's fellow crew members from Speedwell fire station, a mile from the blaze, were immediately taken off duty for a debriefing. A brigade spokesman said they would be offered counselling. Station officer John Dando added: "The loss of a valued colleague is obviously a major shock for everybody. This is the first death we have suffered in 16 years."

Miss Lombard moved to Avon two years ago after serving in Derby as a retained firefighter. She was one of the brigade's first full-time female firefighters, and won the Silver Axe award for best recruit.

Her father, Roger Lombard, from New Mills, Derbyshire, said last night: "We were extremely proud of her. She died doing what she wanted to do. "Our only consolation is she knew nothing of what happened."

More than 100 firefighters fought for three hours to bring yesterday's blaze under control, as a huge pall of black smoke hung over the north of the city.

Avon and Somerset police appealed last night for an elderly couple who raised the alarm at around lunchtime to come forward. It is understood they alerted a member of staff to smoke and flames in an area of stacked bags of crisps.

Yesterday's tragedy came just three days after Stephen Griffin, 42, and Kevin Lane, 32, part-time firefighters, died when they went into a blazing house in Blaina, Gwent, to rescue a child who had already been carried to safety. Twenty-one firefighters have lost their lives on duty since 1990.