THERE were major concerns that the blaze at Shirley Towers in which two firemen died could have turned into a repeat of a tragic tower block fire in London that killed six residents.

The officer leading the operation at the Southampton high-rise on April 6, 2010, told Southampton Coroner’s Court he was very aware of panic among people who had been told to stay in their flats that night.

Group manager Tony Deacon said that social networking sites helped to spread alarm among residents in the 15-storey tower block much more quickly than would have previously happened.

He told the inquest into the deaths of firefighters Alan Bannon and James Shears that having found both the ninth and 11th floor exits unusable for apartments on the same level as burning Flat 72, he wanted to avoid a similar disaster to the one in London nine months earlier.

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

Mr Deacon said many “scared”

people were trying to get out of Shirley Towers, and a priority was to use ventilation to clear the 11th floor of thick, hot smoke to provide an escape route as well as improving conditions for firefighters.

He said: “A number of residents were in peril, and that was absolutely central, certainly throughout the rescue operations and well after.

“Asking people to stay where they are is not the easiest thing to achieve.

“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.”

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