Page last updated at 19:53 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 20:53 UK

Two firefighters killed in Southampton flat fire named

Firefighters James Shears and Alan Bannon
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service paid tribute to their colleagues

Two firefighters killed while tackling a fire at a high-rise block of flats in Southampton have been named.

James Shears, 35, and Alan Bannon, 38, died at the 15-storey Shirley Towers in Church Street where fire broke out just after 2000 BST on Tuesday.

A further two firefighters suffered burns to their hands, while all residents were rescued.

An inquiry has begun into the incident. Most residents will be allowed home later but some will remain in a hotel.

The precise details of how the men died have not yet been released but Hampshire Chief Fire Officer John Bonney said his men had been "valiant" in "extremely difficult circumstances".

'Devastated by loss'

Both were full-time firefighters and members of Red Watch at St Mary's fire station in Southampton.

Mr Shears, from Poole in Dorset, had been with the service just under seven years; Mr Bannon, from Southampton, for eight-and-a-half years.

Eyewitnesses described how a ceiling and staircase fell through as the fire, which started on the ninth floor, spread through the building.

Residents of the upper floors have spoken of how they were told by fire wardens to remain in their flats because the corridors were filled with thick, acrid smoke.

Everyone was eventually evacuated from the high-rise, one of Southampton's tallest, and dozens of people spent the night in a nearby emergency rest centre or with family and friends.


Eyewitnesses describe the scene - Mobile footage captured the flames

The flat where the fire began was home to a mother with two children, who were all unhurt, residents said.

Mr Bonney, who visited the firefighters' families on Wednesday, told a news conference: "We are devastated by the loss of our colleagues who died in the line of duty.

"Our thoughts are with their families, with their friends and their colleagues who have all been stunned by these events.

"I would like to pay tribute to the courage, dedication and service of those firefighters."

He added: "At this stage it is not appropriate to speculate around circumstances relating to this incident.

Resident Sammy Judd with her three-year-old daughter
Sammy Judd noticed smoke pouring into her flat

"Whether something went wrong, we will discover in due course, and if there is something that went wrong, then we will address that."

Seven casualties, including Mr Shears and Mr Bannon and the two firefighters who suffered burns, were taken to Southampton General Hospital.

Nearby roads were cordoned off by police as up to 20 fire engines were called to the scene and firefighters from neighbouring counties were drafted in.

Ch Supt Matthew Greening, of Hampshire Constabulary, said the force continued to work closely with the fire service investigating the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

He paid tribute to the two men, adding: "We work very closely with our colleagues from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and I know the devastating impact this will have on the organisation."

Communities Secretary John Denham said: "Our thoughts and condolences are with the families of the two firefighters who have tragically lost their lives in the fire in Southampton.

"The incident brings home to us the professionalism and dedication of the men and women working in our fire and rescue services and of the debt of gratitude we owe them."

The Health and Safety Executive has also been informed.

Floral tributes

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said: "Firefighters across the UK will be devastated by this tragedy and our thoughts are with the families of those who died."

Peter Holland, vice president of the Chief Fire Officers' Association, said: "The whole firefighting community is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic deaths.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our lost colleagues."

Chief officer John Bonney: "We are devastated by the loss of our colleagues"

Ross Simpson, a Shirley Towers resident, told BBC Radio Solent he was watching a DVD when he first realised a fire had broken out.

"Around about 8.15pm I just heard sirens around the block," he said.

"I looked out of the window and saw a group of people outside and I saw fire engines turn up.

"I looked out of my kitchen window, looked up and basically, saw black smoke coming out of the flats."

Resident Sammy Judd said: "I looked out the window and saw all the smoke and I grabbed my [three-year-old] daughter and told my friend we had to get out.

"Next thing we know, there's smoke pouring into our flat."

The Union Jack has been flying at half mast on fire stations across the country, and floral tributes have been laid at St Mary's fire station.

One card read: "You gave your lives keeping the public safe. The most precious sacrifice one gives to another. God bless."

It was signed: "With love, every person in Southampton."

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