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I tried to save him in time...'

PUBLISHED: 12:19 30 July 2009 | UPDATED: 17:00 25 August 2010

Neighbour Lee Smith couldn't get to the pensioner.

Neighbour Lee Smith couldn't get to the pensioner.

NEIGHBOURS desperately tried to save a 95-year-old man from a blaze in his flat but were left helplessly hearing his calls for help as they were pushed back by flames.

NEIGHBOURS desperately tried to save a 95-year-old man from a blaze in his flat but were left helplessly hearing his calls for help as they were pushed back by flames.

Widower Herbie Burbidge was killed as a fire ripped through his flat in Upton Road, Plumstead, at approximately 9.15am last Friday.

By the time his neighbour Lee Smith, 23, and his cousin Billy, 24, ran up to his flat the flames had already engulfed his front door and the smoke was billowing into neighbouring flats. Mr Smith wrapped a wet towel around his face to try to save the pensioner but the flames were so fierce he couldn't get to him.

He said: "We heard pops and bangs and thought it was going to explode. We heard him say 'help me, get me out'."

The pensioner is believed to have pressed his panic button an hour and a half before the fire took hold of his flat.

Mr Smith added: "He told people he had a little fire and they left it. We heard that the fire started from the electric fire in his front room. He could hardly walk. He was found in the kitchen with the taps on."

Firefighters from Plumstead and Woolwich managed to get the fire under control by 10am to find Mr Burbidge dead.

As emergency services arrived, the cousins helped residents escape from the top flats.

Paying tribute to Mr Burbidge, who had lived in the block since they were built in the 1990s, Billy Smith, said: "He was an old gentlemen and a dear member of the community. He was independent."

The fire's cause is still under investigation, but police are not treating it as suspicious.

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