A BACHELOR celebrating his 70th birthday alone at his Ammanford cottage watched helplessly as his home and pet cats were destroyed by fire last night.
Neighbours said Harry Matthews smashed an upstairs window in the blazing house in a frantic effort to save the three cats as they scratched to escape.
But flames blazing through the roof burned overhead power cables and blacked out the cottage in Heol Ddu, forcing Mr Matthews to leave the building.
Neighbours Gwyn Stone, Roger Brazier and 16 year old Simon Brazier pulled him to safety.
“He was frantic. He wanted to go back for the cats but we wouldn't let him,” said Mr Brazier.
“We tried to get in but we couldn't because of the smoke and flames. It was red hot. He's lost everything. There's nothing left.”
Two cats were found dead. One was buried in the garden by firemen but Mr Matthews refused to be taken to hospital by ambulance in the hope he would still find the third cat.
He suffered severe shock and the effects of breathing in smoke and spent last night with neighbours.
“His cats were like his family. I hope they find one of them alive, just for him to have something to hang on to,” Mr Stone said.
At least three nearby homes lost electricity after the blaze which burnt out the cottage.
Neighbours said Mr Matthews was celebrating his 70th birthday last night. He cooked a meal and left the kitchen to eat it. When he returned flames from a chip pan had reached the ceiling, they said.
Twelve firefighters tackled the blaze. Four wore breathing gear to enter the cottage. It took less than half an hour to control the blaze but firemen were damping the house and clearing debris hours later.
Sub-officer Clive Pugh said the fire had burned through the first floor and flames were blazing through the roof. Firemen had to dodge falling slates.
“The heat was intense and there was severe smoke logging. This gentleman was extremely lucky to escape,” he added.
“If he'd found the fire a few minutes later he could have died.”