THE officer in charge of the operation to tackle the Shirley Towers fire was worried it would become a repeat of a horror high-rise blaze in London that claimed six residents' lives.

Group manager Tony Deacon told Southampton Coroner's Court the number of people in distress inside the 15-storey Southampton tower block when he took over command of the fire service response was a major concern.

The blaze on April 6, 2010, in which St Mary's firefighters Alan Bannon and Jim Shears were tragically killed, came just nine months after a severe fire in London.

Six residents, including Hampshire-born fashion designer Catherine Hickman died during the incident at Lakanal House in Camberwell, after being told to stay in their flats.

Shirley Towers residents were also told not to leave their homes, but an inquest into the firefighters' deaths heard many became increasingly panicked as the fire developed.

“That was absolutely in my mind," said Mr Deacon. “A number of residents were in peril, and that was absolutely central, certainly throughout the rescue operations and well after.

“With the advent of social media and networking today, a lot of people were receiving a lot of information, whereas even ten years ago people wouldn't have even known there was a fire in that building.

“Asking people to stay where they are is not the easiest thing to achieve. When someone is dead set on leaving, they will leave.

“There were lots of people leaving, from the infirm to young mothers with babies in arms, who were all scared. They have an image of what a fire can do.”

Mr Deacon said his actions in calling for the 11th floor corridor to be urgently vented had been to create an escape route for residents trapped in their homes on the same level as Flat 72, as well as easing conditions for firefighters tackling the blaze inside.

He also told the inquest he felt “insulted” by suggestions, raised earlier in the inquest by Fire Brigades Union barrister Martin Seaward, that Mr Shears and Mr Bannon had been “forgotten about” during the operation.

The court has heard Mr Bannon, 38, from Bitterne, Southampton, and Mr Shears, 35, from Poole, died after being overcome by “excessive heat”.