House inferno ‘worst ever seen by firefighters’

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Firefighters who fought in vain to save a devoted Yorkshire couple from a “horrendous” inferno at their home told an inquest into their deaths the blaze was the worst they had ever seen.

Neighbours and passers-by used ladders to try to rescue Anna and Victor Crowther from the flames and acrid smoke that engulfed their Hull home as the 46-year-olds screamed for help.

Although fire crews tried to drag the unconscious Mr Crowther to safety, neither he nor his wife could be saved. The inquest heard the couple, who suffered severe burns, had probably died before the brigade arrived.

They had moved into the mid-terrace property in Montrose Street 12 years to the day before the blaze broke out on June 25.

The fire, thought to have been caused by an electrical fault, trapped the couple upstairs and they made a 999 call from their bedroom at about 6.10am.

Neighbours gave harrowing evidence of the couple’s plight.

In a statement, neighbour Tracy Allison said she looked out of her bedroom window and saw Mrs Crowther a few feet away with smoke billowing around her.

She said: “I saw Anna’s hands out of the window. I realised her head was also hanging out and she was shouting, ‘Help me, help me’.”

Another neighbour, Richard Wood, was on his way to work when he saw the fire and called the fire brigade before rushing to help.

He said: “I could see the house was on fire, the flames were orange and there was thick black acrid smoke. I could hear someone shouting and saw a male’s face leaning out of the window. He shouted, ‘Help me, just get us out’.

“I asked if he could smash the window but he just shouted, ‘Get us out.’”

Passing workmen Andrew Griffin and Phil Jude stopped their van when they saw the smoke and used their ladders to try to rescue the couple.

Mr Griffin said: “I could hear a female screaming. I ran to get a hammer while Phil got a ladder. I climbed up the ladder and smashed a corner of the bedroom window with the hammer.

“Smoke poured out and the heat was so bad I got blisters on my arms. I could see a male on the floor. He wasn’t moving at all, I thought he was dead.

“I tried to grab him up by his jeans or belt but I couldn’t grab hold of him. I had to climb back down the ladder because the heat was so bad.”

A firefighter with seven years experience, Karl Evans, said the heat was so intense it penetrated his protective clothing.

He told Hull Coroner’s Court: “I used the ladder that was already there to climb up to the bedroom window. I got to the top of the ladder and could see the casualty’s foot. I tried grabbing him three or four times, he just kept slumping down.

“I remember shouting ‘Come on’, I don’t know if that was to myself or the casualty, but I couldn’t grab him and get him out. I did all I could, conditions were horrendous.

“I could feel my arms, the tops of my shoulders and the back of my neck getting incredibly hot. I have never been that hot.”

Recording verdicts of accidental death, Coroner Michael Mellun said: “Members of the public and firefighters risked their lives and did all they could to save Anna and Victor Crowther.”

He added: “It is most likely on the balance of probability that it was an electrical fault that tragically led to these deaths.”