A FIREFIGHTER today described the "death trap" conditions of a tower block blaze that claimed the lives of his two colleagues.

Keith Holland was part of a two-man team that first entered the burning flat number 72 at Shirley Towers in Southampton He told an inquest that he and Liam Ryan, from Redbridge fire station, started a search for the source of the fire along the right-hand walls of the apartment through thick black smoke and using touch and hearing to guide them along.

They were eventually joined on the upper landing area by St Mary's firefighters Jim Shears and Alan Bannon, the second team to enter the flat on the night of April 6, 2010 Mr Holland told the inquest how, having failed to locate the source of the blaze upstairs, a window was opened to allow ventilation.

The four agreed to descend to a lower level to continue the search - but, despite no visible flames, the temperature in the building started to rise dramatically, jurors were told.

Mr Holland and Mr Ryan managed to "dive" in to a bathroom, but Mr Shears was heard shouting out: "I can't go down."

Amid darkness, extreme temperatures and with cables starting to fall from the ceiling, Mr Holland managed to reach the fire exit on the top level.

But he had to return to the burning flat to drag Mr Ryan to safety after he became trapped in the fallen cables.

Mr Holland told the inquest he could not hear Mr Shears or Mr Bannon at this point and thought it may have been possible the pair had escaped by descending to a lower level in the flat.

He also said he saw two fire fighters while he was escorting Mr Ryan away from the apartment and believed his two other colleagues "had made it".

It was only later that he realised dad-of-one Alan Bannon from Southampton and dad-of-two Jim Shears from Poole had died after being overcome by the intense heat inside the flat.