HORRIFIED locals watched aghast as their neighbour plunged from an upstairs bedroom window to the ground below as flames licked around him following a gas blast, writes Claire Lewis.
Dennis Popplewell suffered horrific burns to 90 per cent of his body after an explosion sparked a blaze which engulfed his Sheffield home.
Stunned neighbours on Jermyn Avenue, Hackenthorpe, said one frantic helper was running towards the house with ladders, and others were trying to find some, when Dennis toppled forwards head first.
Charles Mills, aged 57, who lives opposite the house, has been hailed a hero by firefighters and locals for breaking his neighbour’s fall in a desperate attempt to save his life.
The dad-of-four also helped to drag Dennis away from the burning house onto a grass verge and tried to keep him conscious on the advice of ambulance service control staff.
He said Dennis had suffered dreadful burns, with fragments of bedding stuck to his skin and revealed all his hair had also been burned off.
Neighbour Lynn Thompson, 52, who went to school with Dennis’s brother Keith and has known his family most of her life, told The Star she would never be able to forget the horrific moment he fell.
“I heard two loud explosions and could hear a neighbour screaming at Dennis to wait at the window, but the next thing I saw was him falling out - it was horrible.
“When I close my eyes it is all I can see. I am never going to forget it.”
Neighbours said Dennis, aged in his 50s, had never come to terms with the death around two years ago of his mother Dora, a former school dinner lady who he nursed through dementia.
Curtains in Mrs Popplewell’s bedroom had stayed closed since her death - and next door neighbour Lindsay Reinhardt, 25, said: “I never saw his mum’s curtains open for years.
“But it was her window he fell from.”
Another woman, who did not want to be named, said: “I have known Dennis since we were children and he has not been happy for a long time, especially since the death of his mum.”
Lynn added: “Dennis lived with his mum and looked after her when she had Alzheimer’s - he has never got over losing her and hasn’t been the same since.”
Dennis was rushed to the Burns Unit in the Northern General Hospital while fire crews dealt with the blaze which started at 5.45am yesterday.
Incident commander Andy Cloke, of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, said: “There was lots of smoke when crews arrived and they found the occupant of the house on the roadside being looked after by neighbours.
“Our crews administered first aid until paramedics arrived.
“All the windows on the front of the house had been blown out - it would appear there had been some force behind what happened.
“There were fires on both levels of the property and we had to use water jets on both but we had to make the property safe before crews could be committed, so the gas and electricity supplies were isolated and neighbouring homes were evacuated as a pre-caution.
“A structural engineer has been out to assess the property.”