Gas blast victim, 42, ‘killed when three-storey building collapsed’ after blaze in Bedford


Pictured: Gas blast victim, 42, ‘killed when three-storey building collapsed’ after blaze as others jumped from second-floor windows to escape

  • Tributes have been paid to Reena James, 42, thought to have been killed in blast
  • Her family say police have not confirmed her death, but found a body in her flat
  • She lived on the ground floor of the building on Redwood Grove, Bedford
  • Neighbour said that she tried to save Ms James but the smoke was too strong

Tributes have been paid to a 42-year-old woman thought to have been killed when a three-storey building collapsed after a blaze, as others jumped from second-floor windows to escape.

Reena James lived on the ground floor of the building on Redwood Grove, Bedford, which collapsed after a gas blast started a fire at 9am on Monday.

Her neighbour, Karina Caetano, 24, said that she tried to save Ms James but the smoke kept her from getting in.

Reena James, 42, is thought to have been killed when a three-storey building collapsed in Bedford

Reena James, 42, is thought to have been killed when a three-storey building collapsed in Bedford

‘She was a good friend and always very kind to me,’ she told The Sun.

Ms James’ brother, Peter Masih, 46, said police have yet to confirm her death, but said they had found a body in her flat.

Her father, James Mattu, 75, said they will believe it ‘when we see it is Reena with our own eyes’.

He said police ‘are not sure yet’ on the death. 

‘They said they found my daughter, but it is too hot to keep searching,’ he said.

‘We didn’t see yet our daughter. So, I don’t know what’s going on.’

Mr Mattu said that he watched coverage of the explosion on television, and knows that one person has died, and three others left injured, adding he ‘but didn’t think it was my daughter’.

Those injured included a firefighter, who was taken to hospital after the fire.

An aerial view of the building - which was destroyed in the major gas explosion. Flames ripped through the roof and engulfed the block of flats, leaving three people injured. Fire, ambulance, and police services rushed to the scene in Bedford

An aerial view of the building – which was destroyed in the major gas explosion. Flames ripped through the roof and engulfed the block of flats, leaving three people injured. Fire, ambulance, and police services rushed to the scene in Bedford

The block of 20 flats was gutted and destroyed in the horror blaze, caused by a major gas explosion

The block of 20 flats was gutted and destroyed in the horror blaze, caused by a major gas explosion 

Emergency services battled with the blaze, while three people were rushed to hospital

Emergency services battled with the blaze, while three people were rushed to hospital 

Fire chiefs are investigating whether the blast was caused by a resident using a makeshift heating or cooking device or gas bottles as a result of the rising cost of fuel.

One man was thrown from the three-storey building by the powerful explosion and others were said to have leapt from a window as fire ripped through the flats.

The blast – which was heard up to half a mile away – sent bricks flying into the air and knocked bystanders off their feet. 

While the flats in the all-electric block in Bedford are not served by a gas supply, Chris Bigland, deputy chief fire officer for Bedfordshire, said earlier this week: ‘It could have been a camping stove, with the fuel crisis.’

Six fire engines, two water carriers and a command unit raced to the flats shortly after 9am on Monday. 

The roof collapsed as the blaze spread through the building of 20 flats, leaving 36 residences uninhabitable.

Two heroic bricklayers Mark Waggott and Michael Moxam (pictured) were the first on the scene to help save victims when a flat blew up in Bedford at around 9.30am on Monday in scenes they described as 'pandemonium'

Two heroic bricklayers Mark Waggott and Michael Moxam (pictured) were the first on the scene to help save victims when a flat blew up in Bedford at around 9.30am on Monday in scenes they described as ‘pandemonium’

Bricklayers Michael Moxam, 45, and Mark Waggott, 37, were hailed as heroes after arriving first on the scene. 

They found a man in his 20s unconscious and another in his 50s ‘screaming in agony’ after jumping 20ft from a second-floor window.

The pair dragged the men to safety, fearing more explosions, then told firefighters who arrived moments later that a bystander had warned them two girls were still in the building.  

Mr Waggott said: ‘We drove over the bridge at around 9.40am and saw the smoke. We couldn’t hear any ambulances or fire engines so we went in to make sure everyone was okay.

‘We found one man in his 50s and one man in his 20s who had jumped out of a second-floor window. It was pandemonium. The younger guy was face-down and unconscious. The other was screaming in agony with blood on his arm. I think he’d broken his hip.’

Mr Waggott said they pulled the man in his 50s away from the building as they feared a further explosion.

Mr Moxam, who had blood on his trousers and shoes from helping the victims, said: ‘The heat of the flames was on you when you tried to pull them away. I was hearing crackles and bangs. We were worried about another explosion. In that situation you don’t think of nothing but helping people.

‘The explosion had blown up the building. The bricks had blown out and you could see inside. There was a lot of smoke and flames. A guy said two little girls were in the building but we couldn’t get inside. We passed the message on when the firefighters arrived.

‘The older guy went in an air ambulance to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. The other guy, who injured his shoulder, went to Bedford Hospital.’

Firefighters on the scene are tackling the inferno, which has engulfed the residential block in Bedford

Firefighters on the scene are tackling the inferno, which has engulfed the residential block in Bedford 

Residents have been told to keep their windows closed following the major gas explosion. Thick black smoke pictured billowing from the scene

Residents have been told to keep their windows closed following the major gas explosion. Thick black smoke pictured billowing from the scene

Care manager Adrian Mazurkiewicz, 27, who lives in a neighbouring block at the development, said: ‘Suddenly there was an explosion, and then there was the shockwave, which you could feel pass through you.

‘I saw another gentleman on the other side of the building –it seemed like he’d just been blown out of the window… The walls have been completely cracked like a walnut.’

Sales worker Adam Fisher, 37, said: ‘Immediately an inferno was visible – huge smoke clouds billowing, people screaming, and people frantically calling for emergency services.’

Retired photographer John O’Reilly, 76, said: ‘There was a loud explosion which knocked me off my feet.’

Some 100 homes, and a primary school, were evacuated, and an emergency unit was set up at a sports centre. 

The roaring fire was seen ripping through the roof of the three-storey block

The roaring fire was seen ripping through the roof of the three-storey block

Footage shared on social media showed plumes of flames erupting through the block of 20 flats while fire engines showered the blaze with water. 

The horror blaze was seen ripping through the roof of the building — which partially collapsed — as terrified onlookers heard screams from the scene.  

One local resident in Bedford said they saw a person jumping from a second-floor window to escape the burning building.

They said: ‘I heard the explosion from my house round the corner.

‘I walked to town and saw the flames and also witnessed someone jump from the second-floor window whilst flames were blaring out.’

Locals were warned to keep windows closed and avoid the area as thick black smoke was seen billowing through the air.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have said the fire on Redwood Grove was caused by a gas explosion

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have said the fire on Redwood Grove was caused by a gas explosion

The gutted building after the gas explosion

The gutted building after the gas explosion

The destruction could be seen as firefighters battled the blaze

The destruction could be seen as firefighters battled the blaze

He said: ‘A huge explosion heard — everyone went to our work car park to see what was happening.

‘Our building is adjacent to the apartment complex — immediately an inferno was visible, huge smoke cloud billowing, people screaming and people frantically calling for emergency services.’ 

Alex Feltham, who witnessed the incident, said: ‘Block of flats has exploded near Redwood Grove, really horrible.

‘Hope everyone made it out. Air ambulance has arrived.

‘Was in the office next door, the whole place shook. 

‘Thought the warehouse had collapsed, wasn’t until went outside that we’d seen the gaping hole in the roof of the flats. The fire spread so quickly. Police then Fire turned up quickly.’  

Retired photographer John O’Reilly, who lives in a block of flats adjacent to the block where the fire was, said the blast knocked him off his feet and there were bricks strewn across the road. 

The 76-year-old, speaking at a police cordon along the road from the flats, said: ‘There was a loud explosion which knocked me off my feet.

‘I got dressed and walked out into the road and walked out into the road to find the adjacent block on fire.

‘There were bricks in the road so it was obviously a very large explosion to do that sort of damage.’

He said he did not know when he would be allowed back into his property.

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesperson said on Monday: ‘We were called at 9.33am today to a significant fire at a block of flats in Redwood Grove, Bedford.

‘Three ambulances, the hazardous area response team, a tactical commander, three operations managers and the Magpas Air Ambulance were sent to the scene.

‘One person was airlifted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital for treatment for leg injuries, while two people, one of whom was a firefighter, were conveyed to Bedford Hospital South Wing with smoke inhalation.’

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have confirmed the fire on Redwood Grove was caused by a gas explosion

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have confirmed the fire on Redwood Grove was caused by a gas explosion

Bedfordshire Police confirmed that it had responded to an explosion at Redwood Grove, Bedford on Monday.

‘This resulted in a significant fire at a three storey block of 20 flats, which has engulfed the whole building and caused a large portion of the roof to collapse,’ police said on the day.

‘There are two people who have been taken to hospital, one with serious injuries to Addenbrooke’s.

‘An Emergency Assistance Centre has been set up at The John Bunyan Centre in Bedford, for people who have been evacuated and need support.

‘An adjacent block of flats has also been evacuated and we are working to get people back in their homes as quickly as possible.’

Nearby Shackleton Primary School was evacuated as a result of the fire, with headteacher Andy George saying in a statement: ‘Following the fire in the Redwood Grove area of Bedford, pupils at Shackleton Primary have been sent home due to the school’s proximity to the incident. 

‘All children are safe and the school is working with the emergency services.’   

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