A DAD was forced to throw his two screaming young daughters nearly 30 feet from a top floor window as a fire ripped through their home.
Jay Payne, 26, was asleep in the top floor flat in the three-storey block with his wife and two daughters, aged seven and four.
He dropped his two little girls from the window into the arms of a neighbour as the flames took hold at the block of flats in Somerset Court, Gosport, Hants, at 12.30am Wednesday.
Then he and his wife jumped too as the 'killer' blaze took hold.
He said "We'd woken up to the fire alarm, I opened the door and flames and smoke came through.
"The whole place went black. We were screaming at the top of our lungs for someone to help us.
"I chucked a mattress out the window and threw my kids out and then my wife and myself jumped.
"It was very traumatising…my four-year-old daughter has burns up her arms from her fingertips to her shoulders.
"The whole flat has gone – we've got nothing left."
Shocked neighbour James Matthews said "He was pleading with anybody, please somebody please help me, somebody please catch my children, somebody please help us and it was awful somebody fearing for their life.
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"He dropped the first girl and I've caught her under her armpits pretty straight sort of catch and then he's dropped the second girl afterwards and I believe there was another neighbour we sort of broke her fall together."
Another resident, Jodie Mills, said "Mattresses were being flung out on to the ground so that the children could land on it.
"People were breaking their falls, people got burnt. Lots and lots of smoke."
Four people, four dogs and three cats were rescued from the blaze – being treated by detectives as an arson attack which could have seen families die.
The fire service says miraculously everyone was accounted for following the blaze which is now being treated as a murderous and deliberate attack, though the motive isn't clear.
Families from 23 flats were saved, four people taken to hospital with burns, smoke inhalation and for checks.
Four dogs and three cats were also rescued.
Nev Lewendon, Station Manager for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service, said "People were screaming, panic had ensued throughout some of those flats worried about evacuation.
"So the crews turned up and rapidly put up ladders to help with these people who needed evacuating.
"In some cases people were helped down ladders, others were actually helped out windows as well.
"It was a fierce fire initially through that middle block, going up through the centre, which is where that stairwell is.
"I'm really proud of the teams that were here on site initially and the ones that have come afterwards to just get involved and trying to get this fire extinguished."
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary said "The fire is currently being treated as suspicious, and police remain on scene making enquiries with the fire service. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact police on 101, quoting 44230182829."
Families were unable to return to their homes and last night were in emergency temporary accommodation in a nearby hotel.
The four people taken to hospital suffered burns and smoke inhalation in the blaze, which burnt through the stairwell and roof, but have now been discharged.
A number of flats suffered damage in the blaze.
About 60 firefighters were on the scene at the height of the blaze, with ten appliances from across the Portsmouth area.
Station manager Lewendon added "The initial crews were met by a lot of people screaming and going into panic with quite a well established fire in the middle of three blocks of flats.
"People were struggling to get out of the building hence the panic- we put ladders up to windows to rescue people from the flats.
"The fire had spread throughout cavities and even now we are checking for hotspots."
At least six out of the 23 flats were left uninhabitable.
The fire service said relief crews and the British Red Cross remained on scene.
Police and fire investigations at the flats were expected to continue through Thursday. A cause has not yet been established.
Heritage Way, the road leading to the flats, remains closed.
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