A Littlehampton mum who entered a burning building in a desperate rescue attempt has spoken of her ‘heartbreak’ at not being able to save an elderly woman.
The major fire broke out in a property in Harwood Road just after 12 midday on Saturday.
An elderly man was pulled from his home but his elderly wife was tragically killed.
The woman, who was also in her 70s, is believed to have been disabled and bed-bound.
Mum-of-two Leah Iwaszkow twice entered the house but said the thick black smoke and extreme heat made it impossible to get to the stricken woman.
Leah, 31, was visiting her mother, Sonya Bevan, who lives opposite, at the time.
Leah said: “We both heard this high-pitched noise but didn’t know what it was until mum screamed ‘there’s a fire’.
“She grabbed the phone to call the fire brigade and I just ran over to the house.
“When I got there an old man was being carried out of the front door by two women.
“They were stopping him from going back in and he just kept saying ‘my wife’s in there, my wife’s in the front room’.
“The only way I could stop him from going back in there was to go in myself.”
Despite not being able to see through the thick, acrid smoke, Leah located the room where the woman was trapped.
“The door was closed but I knew it was hot because the handle was like mush in my hands and I could see paint bubbling.
“I opened the door and that’s when this huge fireball came at me and I just fell back.
“I couldn’t breathe so I had to go to the front door so I could get some air.
“I went back in but the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see my hand in front of me and it was like I had a bonfire in my mouth.
“It felt like my face was melting but I tried to open the door again and the flames and the room just came at me again and I knew I couldn’t go back in.”
Leah’s mum Sonya alerted next-door neighbours there was a fire and those affected were treated in her home opposite.
Sonya said: “I screamed at her not to go in but I think instinct just took over.
“I saw her come out of the house and she was followed by this huge ball of flames, it was awful.
“What she did was so brave, she’s just amazing.”
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said the fire is believed to have been started by smoking materials.
Leah has paid tribute to the ‘amazing’ emergency service personnel involved, including an off-duty police inspector who helped get the man out and then comforted them both afterwards.
Leah said: “I just felt so vulnerable and powerless over everything that was going on, it was surreal.
“I didn’t have time to think, it was all just a blur.
“I’ve had messages from the family thanking me but I don’t know why, I just feel heart-broken.”
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