Neighbours’ heroic bid to save disabled fire victim

Police cordoned off the scene in St Katharine's Crescent after the  fatal blaze.

Police cordoned off the scene in St Katharine's Crescent after the fatal blaze.

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NEIGHBOURS launched a heroic bid to rescue a disabled man trapped in his burning home.

The man, named locally as Robert Brown and aged in his late 50s, died at the family home in St Katharine’s Crescent in Gracemount where he had lived for most of his life.

Wheelchair-bound Mr Brown was paralysed after falling down the stairs of the two- storey house about four years ago, it is understood.

Residents told how two care assistants made a dramatic attempt to reach Mr Brown after seeing smoke billowing from the front windows of his home at around 1pm yesterday.

When they were repelled by the choking fumes another neighbour burst into the house and found the disabled man on fire in the living room.

Despite fixing a scarf to his face to filter out the smoke, the neighbour was also overcome by the conditions and fled the burning property moments before fire crews arrived.

An eyewitness, who lives opposite the scene but asked not to be named, said Mr Brown died in spite of the best efforts of the community to save him.

“His carers had opened the front door and the smoke just poured out and they couldn’t get in,” he said. “Then one of the neighbours ran in but came out only seconds later saying it looked like his wheelchair had caught fire or something.

“He had gone inside to get him out but couldn’t because of the smoke.

“When he did come out he said ‘I think he’s dead. He’s in a wheelchair in the living room’ and he thought the wheelchair had caught fire.

“He said there wasn’t much hope for him and it didn’t look good.”

Around 15 firefighters tackled the blaze, which was extinguished “very quickly”, a spokeswoman said.

A major probe was under way yesterday, with detectives, forensic experts and fire investigators combing the scene.

They are thought to be probing the theory that a lit cigarette set light to Mr Brown’s clothing or wheelchair. Police said the cause was being treated as non suspicious.

Group commander Mike Partington said: “It was an extensive fire with thick black smoke and visibility down to zero. It started in the ground floor but at this point we don’t know precisely where.

“There was a lot of smoke damage but not a great deal of fire damage. When we arrived it was a thick smouldering fire and when it’s like that there’s an additional hazard of ‘flashover’ – where gases build up and combust at the same time.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com