Inquiry calls after blaze

THERE were calls for an inquiry last night after a disabled pensioner died and four other people were taken to hospital after fire ripped through nine floors of an Ayrshire tower block yesterday.

Residents of Garnock Court, Irvine, were forced to flee for their lives and neighbours revealed the victim, wheelchair user William Linton, believed to be in his 80s, had only last year escaped a previous blaze at his former flat in the same building.

One angry resident said: ''How can an elderly, disabled man who has already had a fire be moved to another high-rise flat in the same block? Questions need to be answered.''

Four people were taken to Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, suffering the effects of smoke inhalation. An 85-year-old woman and a man, aged 35, were detained. Two men, aged 68 and 75, were released after treatment.

A leading firefighter said it was fortunate the blaze took hold during the day as had it been at night there could have been ''multiple fatalities''.

Local Labour MP for Cunninghame South, Mr Brian Donohoe, called for a full inquiry into the fire which turned the 100ft block into a towering inferno in a matter of minutes.

Speaking from the scene close to his home, he said: ''The first thing that has to be done is to establish the facts, then if needs be, an inquiry to look at the way these flats have been constructed and, indeed, renovated.

''I understand renovation work had been carried out in the past few years.''

The blaze started around 12.45pm, generating temperatures of up to 800C in the 13-storey flats, and sent a pall of smoke which could be seen 10 miles away.

Residents said the fire broke out in Mr Linton's fifth-floor flat and spread rapidly through the living rooms of the properties above. The victim's daughter, Jackie, who lived with him, escaped the flames.

Mrs Ellen Blackley, 59, one of the first tenants to move into the council block in 1965, said a passing motorist raised the alarm by shouting a warning from the street below.

In the rush, Mrs Blackley forgot that her husband was asleep after working night-shift and ran back to waken him.

She said: ''By the time we got out the smoke was coming down the stairs and the windows outside were exploding one by one. The flames were terrible and I've never seen anything go up so quickly.

''When I came down there were three floors burning, but in 10 minutes it was right up to the 13th.''

Mrs Blackley said a fire broke out last year in Mr Linton's former flat, on the sixth floor, and he was moved to the other side of the block.

More than 60 firefighters using hose reel jets and breathing apparatus fought the blaze which took almost two hours to control, with teams dousing the outside of the building as others searched the flats.

Miss Kelly McGhee, 16, said she telephoned her grandfather Jimmy, 65, while he was trapped in the blazing block and he said his wife Margaret, 67, had collapsed: ''But thankfully they are both okay.''

Locals who gathered outside the blackened tower block said more people could have died if many residents had not been outside enjoying the sunshine.

Leading firefighter Malcolm Ward said: ''The flats are designed as concrete boxes and the heat would have been phenomenal - possibly 700C or 800C. Had it been at night, there probably would have been multiple fatalities.''

Assistant firemaster Phil Robinson, heading the operation, said it was too early for his investigation team to determine the cause of the fire.

Building control officers from North Ayrshire Council, which owns the block, were last night checking to determine whether it is structurally safe.

The council provided food and drinks and set up a reception centre for affected families at the nearby Fullarton Community Centre. Residents of the 55-flat block who are unable to return to their homes have been offered temporary accommodation at Irvine's Volunteer Rooms.

A council spokeswoman would not comment on whether the design of the building made it a fire hazard.

The Garnock Court complex is one of five similarly designed buildings built in 1965. They were some of the earliest overspill accommodation in the Irvine New Town, for people from Glasgow.

In Glasgow yesterday, an 89-year-old man died after falling from the window of his 10th floor home in Berryknowes Road, Cardonald. The man, whose identity has been withheld until relatives have been informed, is believed to have slipped while cleaning his windows.