Homeless victims of Portsmouth house blast congratulate Royal Navy sailor for ‘saving our lives’ from burning wreck and thank community for support


The 41-year-old petty officer, based at HMS Collingwood, rushed into the burning building to search for survivors before rescuing pensioner Denise and her son Gary.

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Flames from a Nelson Avenue, North End property after an explosion. Image: Paige Emery

Once in the garden, Jon spotted Gary “confused and dizzy and suffering from burns” before leading him to safety before noticing Denise trapped in the hallway.

The windows, doors and frames had all been blown away by the blast, which, added to her injuries, meant she hadn’t been able to escape the flames.

Shouting for comfort and without thinking about his own safety, Jon entered the crumbling house, lifted it onto his shoulder and ran through the debris and walked away from the house.

“I just did what needed to be done and didn’t think about it,” Jon said after the incident.

Petty Officer Jon Thornber Photo: Keith Woodland

The mother and son have since been treated in a severe burns unit at Salisbury Hospital.

After their ordeal, the couple heartily thanked Jon and the community that rallied in the days following the explosion.

Gary told The News: ‘Thank you (to Jon) for saving our lives. Without him, my mother might not have been there.

Gary suffered extensive burns to his face, hands and arms and underwent a skin graft on Saturday. Denise also suffered severe burns to her hands and arms, Salisbury Hospital confirmed.

Demolition crews inspect the destroyed home in Nelson Avenue, North End. Photo: Tom Cotterill

Gary said: “All the staff take great care of me and my mom, it’s great that we can be together in a room supporting each other. We are asked to do a variety of tasks and exercises daily to help us recover.

Southsea Firefighters have since welcomed Jon to their post with open arms to thank him for his bravery.

Watch director Simon Morford nominated Jon for the Fire Chief’s Commendation and an award from the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire.

He said: “When we arrived we found that Jon and other neighbors were already giving first aid to the injured occupants.

“They had sorted out cooling buckets and were working alongside one of our firefighters to use our hose reel to further cool their burns.

“We later found out that Jon had forcibly entered the property, despite the fire, and brought the lady to safety.

“While we would never want anyone to put themselves in danger, their heroic actions undoubtedly saved their life.

“We wanted to thank Jon for the calm way he responded and felt he deserved to be recognized for his bravery.”

Fire investigators found that the most likely cause of the explosion was a gas leak coming from inside the property.

In the aftermath of the incident, the community mobilized in several ways to help raise funds for Gary and Denise.

Gary started working for Tesco in 1988 and the store he works for in Cosham held a weekend cake sale to help with fundraising.

A JustGiving fundraiser set up by neighbor Gemma Jenkins has also surpassed its goal of £ 1,000 after raising more than £ 1,500 so far.

Gary added: “We would like to thank everyone for their best wishes. We would like to thank the firefighters, the police, the NHS and our entire community for all they have done.

“We would also like to thank one of our neighbors Gemma Jenkins for her support in fundraising.”

Gemma said: “The initial goal was to raise £ 1,000 and with the amazing generosity of the community we were able to do it in less than three days.”

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron

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