Page last updated at 19:20 GMT, Monday, 5 November 2007

Town comes to terms with tragedy

By Andrew Dawkins
BBC News, Alcester

The small Warwickshire market town of Alcester, with its long tradition of firefighting at the centre of the tight-knit community, remains in a state of shock.

Just a few miles from Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon, this quiet, friendly Roman town is coming to terms with the fact that two of its retained firefighters are still missing after a nearby warehouse burnt down.

One firefighter has been confirmed dead and three - including Alcester retained firefighters Darren Yates-Badley, 24, and Ashley Stephens, 20 - are still missing.

Ian Reid, 44, who was killed, was based at Rugby and Stratford, while the third missing man, John Averis, 27, was at Stratford Fire Station.

Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley
Tributes have been paid to Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley

On Monday flowers were still being laid outside Alcester's fire station which is staffed solely by retained firefighters.

But for the moment the station, which has been at its site for about 40 years, has been stood down.

Darren Yates-Badley was described as "always happy".

Ann Hancox, a retired care assistant, said her 18-year-old granddaughter enjoyed doing work experience with him at the leisure centre where he worked.

'Sympathy cards'

She said: "(My granddaughter) could never stop talking about Darren when she came home. She enjoyed it because he made it fun."

At the nearby Girl Friday card and gift shop on the High Street, Steve Mousley, 50, said he spoke to Darren every week at the gym.

Mr Mousley said: "I suppose most people in the town know Darren.

"He'd come down here on his bike most days and he'd always shout hello to somebody or another.

"We've had a lot of people in for sympathy cards today so it's pretty grim to be honest.

"Just about everybody who's been in the shop this morning (Monday) knows one of the two lads so it's pretty sad."

Alcester fire station
People laid flowers outside Alcester fire station

That card shop is now joining with others to pay their own tribute to the firefighters.

Andy Mills, from the Chamber of Commerce, said: "The idea is every business with a window will have something black in the window as a universal display of respect and reverence."

People have also been paying their respects at St Nicholas Parish Church overlooking the High Street and floral tributes have been laid at the fire station, which is on a quiet road of detached and semi-detached houses.

Plans have been made for boxes to be left in shops and pubs so money can be given to firefighters' families.

Nina Knapman, the Alcester county councillor, said the National Fire Service Benevolent Fund was collecting money for the families in Alcester and Stratford.

Shopkeepers on the high street also paid their respects

She said: "The emotion is very high and somewhat in shock.

"I feel that will be heightened even more with the Remembrance service this Sunday, because the retained fire crew were part of the parade."

Both men in Alcester are believed to have had a family tradition of firefighting.

Canon David Capron, a chaplain of Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service who spent time with the firefighters' families, said the mood was one of "pride talking about our guys".

He added that during a service at the weekend people lit candles for those dead and missing following the tragedy.

He said: "Some of the fire brigade took them back to the retained station and lit them in the window with a special little display of cards which was very effective."

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