Those involved in last weekend’s explosion have praised firefighters after footage emerged of them digging to free 72-year-old Pauline Citterio with just their hands, which her lodger told MICHAEL HOLMES helped save the pensioner’s life.
This is the dramatic moment a three-storey house was obliterated in a gas explosion.
The CCTV footage, obtained exclusively by The Gazette, shows the exact moment The Castleford, a former guest house in Charles Street, was engulfed by a fireball – as well as the efforts made to rescue resident Pauline Citterio from underneath a huge heap of bricks.
The 72-year-old remained in Royal Preston Hospital yesterday, in a critical but stable condition.
After examining the footage, fire safety expert Charles Morgan said: “It looks very much like a gas explosion that has obviously caused horrendous structural collapse. How anyone escaped from that building alive is a miracle.”
The extensive footage, which captured the entire rescue effort, has already been passed to fire officials and the police, it is understood, and is likely to play a key part on the ongoing investigation into what caused Saturday evening’s blast.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said earlier this week they believe it was ‘probably and not possibly’ triggered by some sort of gas build up, but specialists have been unable to go inside the building because of the severity of the damage.
At 5.57pm and 33 seconds, an orange glow can be seen through the home’s kitchen window a split second before a fireball rips through the building – sending bricks and mortar flying.
And Mr Morgan, of UK Fire Consulting, said he suspects the glow was not a light being flicked on, but the initial moment a pocket of gas ignites.
Five minutes later, shocked neighbours can be seen making their way down the back alley, which has lockable gates, and looking at the devastation.
They move past a burst pipe spurting out water and appear to hear Ms Citterio crying out. Around nine minutes after the blast, firefighters wearing specialist kit arrive on the scene and are quickly joined by police officers and paramedics as they frantically start to move debris from on top of her with their hands. They free her after around 90 minutes, and carry her on a stretcher to an ambulance waiting nearby.
Nigel Thomas, 64, the pair’s lodger, rushed home from a resort bar to see Martin, who is now in a home, being helped down the street after being pulled out the front of the building by two men, including tattoo artist Jason Slater.
He told The Gazette the firefighters’ prompt rescue efforts ‘without a doubt’ saved his close friend’s life, and said he hopes to personally thank them in the future.He added: “I can’t praise the police, fire service, and the Salvation Army enough.”
Tony Wheeler, 28, who was pinned to the couch of his upstairs flat when the roof caved in during the explosion, dialled 999 and tell the operator he was trapped.
He was freed and taken to Royal Preston Hospital for treatment to leg and head injuries, before being released on Sunday.
He added: “When I was directing them to where I was, they got there pretty rapidly. I was in pain – I thought I had lost my leg.”
Local councillor Mark Smith added: “Our emergency services do an amazing job. The speed with which they respond and their tireless efforts to protect and save lives is to be applauded. This week, firefighters showed remarkable determination in a difficult environment to ensure that people were safe, even digging with their hands to free Pauline Citterio. I would like to thank the firefighters along with other organisations such as the police and ambulance service for their skill and bravery.”
Gas firm Cadent said it cut off supplies to The Castleford and the home either side of it after the blast, and later homes number 17 to 25.
The Castleford and two neighbouring properties remain too dangerous to enter, but residents elsewhere have been allowed home – with their gas supply reconnected by Wednesday, a spokesman said.
Gas pipe replacement work in Charles Street and Cookson Street is unrelated to explosion.