Reading fire: Witnesses report people throwing themselves from burning building

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Dramatic accounts have emerged of people throwing themselves from a burning building in a fatal suspected arson attack.

One man described his “miracle” escape jumping from the third floor of Rowe Court in Grovelands Road, Reading, Berkshire, while other witnesses described a woman falling or jumping from the building.

Thames Valley Police have said that one person died in the blaze while a number of others remain unaccounted for.

They have pledged that officers will “exhaust all our efforts to find signs of life” as they stage a search-and-rescue operation with emergency services colleagues.

A 31-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of arson and murder.

Tom Price, 40, who lives in a nearby building, said: “All I heard was a massive explosion and saw smoke billowing from the flats.

“People were leaping from their windows – I know one lady jumped from a high floor.

“There were screams and shouts and glass was being smashed.

“The flames went on for hours but the police and fire engines were here so quick.”

Police said so far three people have been taken to hospital while another eight were treated by ambulance crews at the scene.

One resident who lives in the building told reporters that he and a firefighter made a desperate leap from his third-floor flat after becoming trapped.

Walking barefoot with a bandage on one of his feet, he told reporters: “I was involved in the incident – I live in the flat on the third floor of the building.

“I was woken up by an alarm and heard a loud explosion. I heard the people inside screaming and shouting – I think they were my neighbours.

“I opened the door of my flat and saw a big cloud of smoke – and saw that the exit was trapped.

“A firefighter then came in and told me the building was on fire and to leave it now, so I jumped out of the window and so did he – it’s about 12ft.

“I landed OK but hurt my leg. I think the firefighter is in hospital, but I thought it was better to break my leg than die. I think it’s a miracle how it all happened.”

Firefighters at the scene on Wednesday
Dozens of firefighters attended the scene (Marc Ward/PA)

“I have a great view of the building and was woken at around 3am to all the commotion,” he said.

“I saw it pretty early on, the flames were coming from the side of the building and engulfed all the other flats and the roof.

“People were shouting and screaming – it was chaotic.”

Reading fire scene
Firefighters view the destroyed building from a raised platform (Marc Ward/PA)

The force said the incident is not being treated as terror-related and urged people to avoid the area, where road closures are in place.

Another man who lives near the scene, who did not want to be named, told the PA news agency: “I’ve never seen so many police and fire engines in my life.

“The building has been really badly damaged, parts of the roof have been torn off, windows are smashed and smoke has been coming out of it for hours.”

Reading fire scene
One man said he had jumped from the third floor to escape the smoke and flames (Marc Ward/PA)

“Officers were called at 2.56am today following a number of reports about the incident at a property in Rowe Court off Grovelands Road.

“Sadly, one person has died as a result of this incident. A number of other people remain unaccounted for. A 31-year-old man from Reading has been arrested on suspicion of arson and murder, and is in custody.

“We are working with our colleagues on a search and rescue operation and will exhaust all our efforts to find signs of life. We expect this phase of the operation to continue today and into the evening and perhaps beyond.

“Three people have been taken to hospital so far, and these all have non-life-threatening injuries. An additional eight people were treated by the ambulance service at the scene.

“A number of other people have been evacuated from the scene and are being cared for by the local authority and partners.

“If you have any concerns about loved ones, you can report them here: or by calling 0800 051 6079 or 020 7126 7641 from outside the UK.”

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