Shock and sadness as blaze claims the lives of Andrew McInnes and William Cooper in Lowestoft house fire
- Credit: Archant
Friends and neighbours have expressed shock and sadness following a house fire in Lowestoft which killed two men, one of them a wheelchair user.
Firefighters burst into the burning home in Stanley Street to rescue the two men, after neighbours were awoken by the smell of smoke coming from the property.
And yesterday neighbours paid tribute to Andrew McInnes, 60, and William Cooper, 62, known as Billy, who lived in the terraced home.
Friend Scott Howlett described how he had been round to the house and had spoken with Mr McInnes on Sunday afternoon – just hours before the devastating blaze.
Fire crews from Suffolk and Norfolk were called out at about 1.10am yesterday (Monday), following reports of a blaze at a house.
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They forced their way through the front door to rescue the victims, who were taken to the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston in a very serious condition.
Police confirmed two men had died in hospital a short time later.
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Mr Howlett said Mr McInnes owned the house and used a wheelchair, and Mr Cooper was his carer.
'It is just a big shock,' he said. 'I really just can't believe it – it's awful.'
Mr Howlett said that the men were 'well known in the street,' and they would head out to the seafront and feed the ducks in Kensington Gardens almost every day.
'I have known Andrew about eight years,' he added. 'I went round there to see them on Sunday afternoon and again on Sunday night, but Billy had gone out and when there was no answer later I left them a loaf of bread on the doorstep.'
With the blaze reported as being in a ground floor room at the back of the property – believed to be the kitchen – firefighters quickly rescued the two men, giving them first aid as they tried to revive them at the scene before paramedics took over.
Suffolk Fire and Rescue area commander Ian Bowell said: 'It was quite a severe fire in the ground floor of the premises. After forcing entry through the front door the first crew in found a casualty on the ground floor, then subsequently found a second casualty on the first floor.'
Police said the fire is not thought to be suspicious. A report will be prepared for the coroner.
Witnesses awoken by 'a real commotion'
With four fire engines – two crews from Lowestoft South, a crew from Lowestoft north
and Gorleston – attending the scene along with numerous police cars, ambulances and paramedics, neighbours
who witnessed the blaze described how they were awoken by 'a real commotion.'
Area commander Ian Bowell said: 'With two people confirmed in the property being rescued, subsequent crews extinguished the fire. The whole house was heavily smokelogged and it was quite a severe fire in the ground floor of the premises.'
It took about 25 firefighters two hours to bring the blaze under control and stop it spreading. With an investigation into the cause of the blaze under way, scenes of crime officers and fire investigators were at the scene yesterday. Mr Bowell said: 'At the moment we have to keep an open mind, but there is no evidence to think that the fire was suspicious. It is absolutely tragic for the families of the casualties.'
A shocked community is still coming to terms with the tragedy.
A neighbour who lived next door but one to the fire-hit house, said: 'I woke up thinking there was something on fire in my house. It was blazing out of the back, with the kitchen alight. I've lived here three-and-a-half years and have got to know Andrew and Billy really well as they are out every day. It's really upsetting.'
Another neighbour added: 'Initially I thought someone was trying to break in and then I saw the window being smashed, smoke billowing out and I saw the flames in the kitchen. It is so sad. Andrew would always be out wearing that hi vis jacket and a woolly hat and gloves. They gave CPR to both of them for a long while, and seeing them being resuscitated was horrible.'
Another witness said: 'There was a lot of noise and commotion and it was an awful thing to wake up and see.' Paula Smith and Scott Howlett were 'good friends' with the men. Ms Smith said: 'I just can't believe it.'