A BOOZY birthday bash almost ended in tragedy for a young couple who had to be rescued from their blazing flat by firefighters.

Dean Smith, 21, had been downing drinks into the early hours to celebrate his 21st birthday with his family.

However, when he got home he left on a frying pan filled with cooking oil as he and his girlfriend Charlene McIntyre, 18, crashed out.

The pan ignited, spreading acrid smoke through their ground-floor studio flat, but the couple snoozed through a smoke alarm.

By chance, another couple walking along Laxton Close in Newtown, Southampton, heard the alarm, saw smoke through the window and called 999. Neighbours also raised the alarm.

Two crews from Hightown station and one from St Mary's were called at 3am yesterday. Firefighters wearing breathing masks found the couple asleep in bed and hauled them out.

Groundworker Dean told the Daily Echo that he had been drinking since the afternoon and could not recall much of the drama.

He said: "I don't remember coming in or going to sleep. But I remember putting the stove on to cook some chips.

"Thankfully some people were walking past. We didn't hear the alarm, but they said it was screaming. They saved our lives. We want to say thank you to them and the firemen who got us out.

"I must have just crashed out on the bed while waiting for the oil to heat up.

"It's lucky it's an electric cooker and not gas or it could have been much worse. Apparently the flat was filled with black smoke, you couldn't see. I can only remember being given oxygen outside."

Yesterday the couple were left with a melted cooker and scorched kitchen walls and ceiling.

"It's devastating," said Charlene, who also has a hazy recollection of the fire.

The couple were taken to Southampton General Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire was put out with a blanket and dry powder.

Jimmy James, a crew manager from Hightown fire station, said: "They both took in a lot of smoke.

"They were very lucky to get out alive. Normally if a smoke detector goes off most people will be alarmed and get up.

"We would urge people not to drink alcohol when preparing food as it can lead to cooking equipment being left on."

Firefighters told neighbours in the three-storey block of flats to keep their doors shut to stop the smoke spreading.

No other properties were affected.