TWO heroic neighbours risked their lives to save a pensioner whose home was on fire.
Robert Barker and Karl Heaver, whose courage has been hailed by firefighters, today said instinct overrode the dangers when they realised the 82-year-old’s house was on fire, and that he was trapped in an alleyway next to it.
Moments after he was dragged to safety, there was a blast which would, said firefighters, undoubtedly have killed him. Leslie Cunliffe was today said to be critically-ill in hospital.
Karl, 33, who lives opposite the house in Leaway, Ince, heard Mr Cunliffe’s groans around 1.30am yesterday.
He looked out of his window and saw flames billowing from the side of the house, and ran across the road help.
He said: “He had collapsed in the ginnel down the side of the house, but when I got there, the fire had spread to the that part too, and there were flames above my head and his shoulder was on fire.
“I put my hands under his belly to try and lift him up.
“The heat was so intense it pushed me back out, and it was then I noticed Robert had come out and was banging on the door.”
Robert, 26, who was alerted to the fire by his girlfriend Claudia Roughley, said: “I’d fallen asleep downstairs and woke up to Claudia shouting at me. I ran outside straight away and tried to kick the front door in, and it was then I saw Karl.
“Flames were pouring out of the house, and the roof of the outhouse where the old man had collapsed was completely on fire too.
“We both had to duck down to avoid the flames, but could feel the heat burning our backs, and we grabbed his feet and dragged him out.
“His arm and back were badly burnt and his jumper had melted on to him. We knew we had to get him away from the house as one window had already exploded, so we rolled him on to a bed sheet and carried him on to the pavement.”
Mr Cunliffe was taken to Wigan infirmary with 36 per cent burns.
The blaze was still under investigation yesterday.
Karl said: “People have said that what we did saved his life, but that’s not sunk in yet, all I keep thinking is what could have happened if we hadn’t been there. Seeing him in that state was awful, he’s such a nice man.”
Robert added: “When we rescued him Leslie was still conscious and was groaning and afterwards I just kept thinking what must have been going through his mind knowing what was going on but not being able get out, he must have thought he was going to burn to death.
“I just hope he pulls through now, we were quite close to him and always had a chat and he would always speak to the children.”
Watch Commander Ian Reid, who was called to the blaze, said: “Obviously we don’t condone people going into burning buildings, but in this case it was a matter of life or death for the victim, and I commend the men’s bravery and quick thinking actions.
“Just moments after the brave men had got their neighbour to safety there was an explosion that could be heard streets away, and the whole of the outhouse where the man had collapsed was engulfed by flames.”
Wigan Borough Fire Commander Steve Sheridan, who was at the scene of the blaze throughout Friday morning, said: “Without their quick-thinking instinctive actions we would definitely be looking at a fatality.
“Both these men put their lives on the line to rescue their neighbour and I will definitely be putting them forward for a bravery commendation.”
Just months earlier Mr Cunliffle had a free Home Fire Risk Assessment carried out by the fire service and it was the smoke alarm that was fitted at this time that woke him up and gave him chance to get out of the house