AN EXPLOSION in a garage killed a 31-year-old dad after his whole body was consumed with flames.
Neighbours rushed from their homes after the blast rocked a garage at the back of Denbigh Court flats, Stanney at around 10.30am on Thursday (November 25).
The dead man, Matthew Christopher Michael Smith, lived with his wife Nicky Canderland-Smith and six-month old son at nearby Harlech Court.
Taxi driver Ged Martin was the first on the scene. He had just arrived home when he saw flames pouring from a garage.
He said that as he walked towards it, “there was a hell of a bang and the garage door flew off”.
A traumatised Mr Martin recalled: “Seconds later, the lad came out screaming, covered literally head to toe in flames.
“I got him on the floor and used my coat to try and put the flames out, but they just kept coming back. It looked to me like he was covered in petrol.
“It was horrible, the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. He came out of the garage shouting for help and screaming. The flames were 4ft above his head.
“I hope I never see anything like that again. I tried to help, but I was not able to save him."
Another neighbour on Conway Court, Christian, ran out with a bucket of water while girlfriend Hayley took her dressing gown off to pat down the flames.
Christian described the harrowing sight of Mr Smith engulfed in flames.
He said: “I heard someone screaming.
“I looked out the window and the garage looked like an inferno.
“The fire he was running round in was higher than the garages. He was covered head-to-toe in petrol.
“I grabbed a mop bucket on the way out.
“The water half put him out then it started coming back up again.
“Ged thought it had been me – he started putting him out with his bare hands.
“A couple of minutes later his neck and arms were still on fire.
“It was one of the most horrible things I have seen.
“His hands were stuck in the air and his legs were bent. He was shaking then he went completely still.
“Thirty seconds later he started breathing again.
“He was screaming a horrifying scream. It went from a scream to a mumble.
“We sent a kid back in the house and said you’re not seeing this.
“If only it was snowing the other day.
“Ged was a hero. He could’ve been blown up himself.”
Hayley added: “It was like something you see in a horror film.
“I was sat there in my bra and pyjama bottoms.
“I’ve seen him cutting his grass with a petrol mower. He looked happy.”
Sharon Johns, whose house backs on to the garage, said: “It was horrible. I heard one big bang and two smaller bangs.
“We legged it out. A fella across the way was bent over a person on the floor.
“I’d never like to see that again.
“My niece’s boyfriend was up the top and he saw a lady walking round going ‘oh my God’. She said ‘I’m looking for my son-in-law, he went to get a fire out of the garage.”
Sharon said she used to deliver the Avon catalogue to Mr Smith and his wife.
She added: “I didn’t have much of a chinwag like I have with the other customers but he looked alright.
“They had cards for their baby on the windowsill for months.”
After firefighters had helped paramedics at the scene, Mr Smith was rushed to the Countess of Chester Hospital and then to the specialist burns unit at Whiston Hospital in Liverpool. But the efforts of doctors to save him were in vain. He died at 12.05am the next morning.
Cheshire Constabulary spokeswoman Shelley Williams said: “Cheshire Police are working in partnership with Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service to establish the cause of the fire, however at this stage of the investigation it is not being treated as suspicious.”
Two fire engines from Ellesmere Port and one from Chester sped to the scene to tackle the flames which took four hours for firefighters to extinguish the fire.
Simon Gibbins, group manager at Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said: "Firefighters immediately set about assisting the paramedics in giving first aid to the injured man, using special burns packs on his injuries and providing him with oxygen therapy.”
Firefighters then spent several hours fighting the fire using hose reels and main water jets. The surrounding buildings were all evacuated during the incident.
A full fire investigation into the cause of the incident is now underway.
Whiston coroner’s officer Lynda Roberts said Mr Smith was formally identified by his wife at the intensive care unit at 12.15am.
She added: “Matthew suffered extensive inhalation injuries and 90% burns to his face and head.
“His injuries were deemed non-survivable and his condition continued to deteriorate, passing away in the presence of his family.”
The matter has now been transferred to coroner for Cheshire Nicholas Rheinberg.