A WELL-LOVED village stalwart died as fire ripped through his house despite neighbours’ desperate efforts to save him.
Friends of 88-year-old Arthur Holmes used an axe to smash down the door of his Holmbridge farmhouse as flames engulfed the living room.
They were forced back by the smoke and intense heat before firefighters arrived shortly after 9pm on Tuesday night.
Minutes later widower Mr Holmes was pulled from the Brownhill Lane house, where he lived alone.
But he was later declared dead at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
A post mortem was being carried out yesterday to determine the cause of death. It was not clear if Mr Holmes had been killed by the fire or had died before it started.
Mr Holmes was registered blind and used a wheelchair to get around his house.
Neighbour Jill Martin was the first person to realise something was wrong when she heard Mr Holmes’ smoke alarm.
“He always had his downstairs light on and I couldn't see it so I ran round,” she said.
“I tried to open the door but it was locked, so I looked through the window.
“It looked like there was a blind down over the window, but it was smoke.
“I touched the glass and it was red hot, so I dialled 999.
“I called another neighbour straight away and we found an axe and eventually managed to break our way in.
“The place was absolutely filled with smoke, it was unbelievable.
“We were shouting out to him, but we couldn't see anything and he wasn’t responding.
“I ran home to get some wet towels because I thought if we could wrap them round our heads we’d have a better chance of crawling through the smoke.
“Then the sofa ignited because the air had got in. We could hear the fire engine coming, so we left.
“I wish we could have done more.”
Fire crews from Holmfirth, Huddersfield and Marsden attended the blaze.
They used breathing apparatus and hose reels to combat the fire.
Investigations into what started it continued into the early hours of yesterday.
Watch manager Mick Lee, from Marsden Fire Station, said: “This was a tragic accident.”
Mr Holmes worked at Albert Mills in Holmfirth and had been an engineer for Brooks Motors.
He brought up his three children on the 27-acre site, where he had lived for more than half a century, and kept a range of livestock.
His wife Hilda died about 14 years ago.
Mrs Martin said: “He was a wonderful man, a very interesting man with a very dry wit which he never lost.
“He was remarkably independent and always said he would be carried out of that house feet first.”
Sue Wilson, 55, was one of the other neighbours who tried to rescue Mr Holmes.
She had known him all her life.
“He was one of the last true Yorkshire characters, one of a kind,” she said.
“He had been blind for a long time and was disabled, but he refused point blank to be given help.
“We just felt so helpless trying to get in, we knew there was nothing we could do.
“It’s surreal. I walked down the road at 5.30 in the morning and all the fire engines had gone – it was as if nothing had happened.
“I thought I had dreamt it.”
Mr Holmes’ two daughters, Gillian and Barbara, were called to the house while it was still on fire.
His son lives in Australia.
Gillian said: “Dad was a character. Everyone had a story to tell about him.”