Neighbours of a retired teacher who was killed in a suspected gas explosion at a block of flats today said: “We’re lucky to be alive.”
Ratna Alexander, 81, died when fire ripped through the building in north-west London early yesterday. A woman and a baby were rescued by firefighters as 40 people were led to safety following the blast at a first-floor flat in Harrow.
A neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: “We truly feel very lucky and happy to be alive as when we first looked out of the window we didn’t know how big the fire was going to be or how fast it was spreading.
“We’re really sad Ratna lost her life. Some people have temporarily lost their homes and are misplaced. The looks on their faces last night were just awful.”
A mother held her baby up to a second-floor window as people scrambled to gather sheets to catch the child before firefighters arrived. One said: “We came outside after waking up and saw someone ringing on all the doors, shouting, ‘Get out, get out, get out!’
“A lady came out of the window on the second floor with the baby. People were shouting, ‘Catch the baby!’ as they couldn’t get out. I was going to say, ‘Don’t throw the baby, the fire brigade are on their way,’ but I couldn’t get my words out because I was so panicked. Then I saw the fire engines. The emergency services were amazing — they were here in about four minutes.”
Fire crews used a nine-metre ladder and platform to pluck the baby and a man and a woman to safety from the block of 10 flats.
Mrs Alexander is said to have taught maths at a south London secondary school and is believed to have two children and three grandchildren.
A neighbour said: “She was friendly [towards us] when we moved in, she brought us a bunch of a flowers and a card. She used to love feeding the birds. She had her own tree and would fill up the bird feeders every day. She loved animals. She was really well presented, very articulate and intelligent.”
Mrs Alexander had lived in the area for more than 30 years.
Last night floral tributes were left at the scene in Fulbeck Way.
Police said there were no signs that the fire was suspicious. A spokesman said the woman’s death was being treated as unexplained.
A fire brigade spokesman said: “The first floor partially collapsed due to the force of the explosion. Sadly, one woman was pronounced dead at the scene.”