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26th JUNE 2003



TRAGIC VICTIMS … Fire hero Phillip Nolan and his daughter Ella, aged 11, who died as he tried to rescue her from their blazing Gwaun-cae-Gurwen home. Melanna, aged 3 (right) was staying with her grandparents when fire broke out.

WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH… Messages on the floral tributes left at the scene of the tragedy this week.

Residents want action
Inquest Report



PREGNANT mother-of-two Jayne Nolan has been left “numb” after watching her hero husband die trying to save their eldest daughter from their blazing home in the Amman Valley.

Mrs. Nolan has spoken of the nightmare blaze for the first time to the Guardian.

“I am just numb,” said Mrs. Nolan who was being comforted by relatives at Graig Road, Gwaun-cae-Gurwen, this week.

Phillip Nolan, aged 36, had already got his 32-year-old wife to safety from their blazing house in Derwydd Avenue in the village. But without a thought for his own safe, he returned to their home that was by then a raging inferno, to try to safe their daughter Ella, aged 11.

Ella, who was formally adopted by Mr. Nolan just six weeks ago was trapped on the first floor.

Both perished as the flames ripped through the house at lunchtime on Sunday.

As Mrs. Nolan and the couple's second child, Melanna, aged three tried to come to terms with the tragedy she spoke of her great loss.

Guardian reporter Emma Evans was invited to speak to Mrs. Nolan and her close family and friends on Monday.

When Emma asked how she was feeling Mrs. Nolan said: “As you would expect. “

“I don't know how to feel. I am just numb,” added Mrs. Nolan who was looking drawn and pale. Sitting with Mellanna in her lap for comfort she said she wanted to thank all the people of the area who had rallied round in her time of grief.

The couple had been married for nine months and she was keen to point out that Phillip regarded Ella as his own daughter – to the extent that he officially adopted her recently.

And tragically, to the extent that he gave up his life, trying to save her. As Mrs. Nolan spoke to Emma Evans young Melanna wandered into the garden where the interview was taking place.

Mrs. Nolan's father, Mr. Edfus Jones, said it was difficult for his young granddaughter to fully appreciate what had happened.

“We hop there are stars in the sky tonight because we have told her that daddy and Ella are stars looking down on her,” he said.

Mrs. Nolan, who is six months pregnant, said that she would like, through the Guardian, to thank all those who have left tributes at the family home.

She said: “I would really like to thank those who have left flowers, cards and teddies at the house.

“It really means a lot to me that so many people care.

“I would also like to thank Gwaun-cae-Gurwen Primary School for the service they held for Ella.”

She added: “On behalf of myself and Melanna, thank-you to everyone who has given us their support and showed us so much kindness.”




INFERNO…Smoke engulfs the Nolan's home. Picture by Guardian reader Dave Bennett, who has asked for his fee to go to the local collection for the family.



MAKE our houses safe – that is the call from relatives and neighbours of the family devastated by the death of Phillip Nolan and his 11-year-old daughter Ella.

Neighbours who watched Sunday's tragic events unfold before their eyes have told the Guardian they would feel much safer if the Neath Port Talbot-owned houses were made of brick rather than steel.

The authority did put fire-retardant insulation in the walls 10 years ago but residents still feel they should conduct regular safety checks to make sure that homes are protected.

This is the third, but most tragic, house fire in the area in recent years and neighbours have expressed their concern for the safety of their own families.

Grieving widow and mum Jayne Nolan said she hopes a tragedy like this is never allowed to happen again.

Richard Gape, of Cwmgors, a close friend of Mr. And Mrs. Nolan said: “The fire crew took eight minutes to reach the house, if it took five minutes to make the call that was a total of 13 minutes, in this tie the house had been engulfed with flames. Is that safe?

“I honestly believe the council should knock down these houses and start again.”

The fire is believed to have started on the ground floor of the house at about 11.40am and quickly swept through the upstairs of the property,

Forensic experts were investigation how the fire got out of control so quickly. Detective Inspector Paul Stevens, head of Neath CID, said the blaze appears to have been a tragic accident.

He said: “The house was very badly damaged and I've spoken to witnesses who said the fire spread rapidly.

“Forensic officers have been at the scene but as yet we have not discovered what did cause the fire.”

Colin Preece, Neath Port Talbot director of social services and housing, said : “This is obviously a very tragic matter for the family and the local community and the council wishes to express its deepest sympathy following these sad events.

It is clearly very important that the fire service undertake a full investigation into all the circumstances surrounding this fire and it would be inappropriate to make any comment until the investigation has been completed.”


HUNDREDS of tributes poured in to commemorate the lives of Phillip and Ella Nolan this week.

Neath AM Gwenda Thomas, a close family friend, sad this was a mind-numbing tragedy and her support goes out to the Nolan's family and friends,

She said: “I visited the family on Sunday and they have all been left completely devastated by what has happened.

“I have known Mrs. Nolan's parents all of my life and they are in a dreadful state.

“This is a terrible occasion for the whole community, who have been rocked by the tragic events.”

She added: “There have also been consultations with the local authority to provide support for the children.”

Sharon Thomas, of Derwydd Avenue, said she was in tears as she watched fire officer trying to beat back the flames as they tried in vain to reach Mr. Nolan and his daughter.

She said: “Phil had managed to get Jayne out of the house and luckily Melanna was staying with her grandparents so she was not at home.

“He went back in to try and rescue Ella but an almighty explosion ripped through the house and things went horrifically quiet. Three fire crews battled the flames but could not reach Phil and Ella.”

She added: “Phil was a devoted father and it was obvious to see that he doted on both his daughters.

“Phil will be dearly missed by everyone who knew him and people will always remember Ella for being a bit of a tomboy.”






A TRAGIC accident stole Phillip and Ella Nolan away from their families, an inquest was told last week.

Neath Port Talbot coroner Dr David John Osborne recorded a verdict of accidental death.

The court was told 36-year-old Mr. Nolan had used petrol to light a fire after 11-year-old Ella complained she was cold.

Jayne Nolan, aged 31, told the coroner's court how the tragic events of June 22 unfolded at Derwydd Avenue, Gwaun-cae-Gurwen.

She said: “Ella had been staying with my parents the night before. When she came home she complained she was chill and went upstairs to change.

“I was ironing in the back room.”

Mrs. Nolan said she knew there was something wrong when she saw a look of horror on Phil's face.

She said: “I went to the front room to see what was wrong when Phil threw me out of the front door and went back in for Ella.”

Mrs. Nolan said the bottom of her husband's jeans were alight when he ran to the garden.

But he soon realised Ella was still in the house and valiantly returned to the smoke-filled property to try and save his much-loved daughter.

She emotionally described how she tan to the back garden and saw Ella at the bathroom window. Mrs. Nolan told the coroner she did not see her husband pouring petrol on the fire.

At this point she was unable to proceed and left the court accompanied by her father and sister-in-law.

Pathologist Dr Alan Dawson said in both cases the cause of death was certainly smoke inhalation.

John Fitzjohn, assistant divisional officer for Mid and West Wales Fire Brigade said the unusually rapid fire had been helped by the use of petrol.

He said: “A petrol can, which was still wet around the cap, was found in the garden shed.

“Mr. Nolan had planned to use the petrol to destroy an ants' nest by the children's swimming pool.

“It is likely that Mr. Nolan had put an unknown quantity of petrol on to the unlit fire before returning it to the shed.

“After he went out doors the petrol vapour spread throughout the living room. He may not have been aware the breeze was moving the vapour around the room and around the house.

“When he activated the lighter he lit the vapour.”

Dr Osborne said this tragic accident highlighted the danger of using petrol. Outdoors and indoors.





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