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Homeless bird watcher alerted residents to St Mary's Island flat fire and helped rescue elderly woman

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A homeless man helped save two elderly people from a burning block of flats after noticing the blaze while bird watching.

Matt Landa, of no fixed address, spotted a small lick of flames coming out of the roof of the five-storey flat block on Main Street, off The Causeway, on St Mary's Island.

Emergency crews tackle a flat block fire on St Mary's Island

He said: "I watched the birds and they showed me.

"Some birds were on the roof of the house, but there was a small fire on the roof coming out of the solar panels - it was very small at first."

After spotting the fire, Mr Landa rushed to the building to try and help.

The ornithologist said: "I tried to open the doors, but they were locked.

Matt Landa helped rescue two elderly people from a second floor flat
Matt Landa helped rescue two elderly people from a second floor flat

"I shouted that the fire was getting stronger, then I tried to kick the glass door but it's very hard glass."

He buzzed the intercom until someone let him inside, then proceeded to bang on the doors of every flat to alert residents of the steadily-growing blaze.

An elderly couple on the second floor were still inside, so Mr Landa and another person helped to get them out of the flat.

He said: "The lady didn't feel well enough to walk, so they helped me to take her downstairs."

Mr Landa carried the woman down the stairs and out of the building, where she was seen to by the emergency services.

There were more than 20 response vehicles at the scene
There were more than 20 response vehicles at the scene

More than 20 response vehicles were at the scene of the fire, which over the course of two hours ripped through the top floor flat.

Fire crews used a height vehicle to douse the flames, which proved difficult to bring under control.

At one point flames burst out of the top floor windows, glass shattering and falling to the ground.

Mr Landa had recently been spending a lot of time on the island bird watching, and said noticing the flames had just been luck.

He said he had also been sleeping in the area in his car for the past few months, but would not describe himself as homeless.

The fire ripped through the top floor flat and decimated the roof
The fire ripped through the top floor flat and decimated the roof

He said: "I'm not homeless, I sleep in the car because I go to different places.

"I come here to watch the birds months ago - it's my passion and I like doing this.

"Sometimes people don't understand me, other people are friendly, but I understand because I'm standing near people's houses and it can be weird to them."

A number of St Mary's Island residents had become concerned about the reason for Mr Landa's presence on the island and alerted the police last month.

Bruce Middlemiss, who lives on the island, has been one of Mr Landa's vocal supporters, and said his actions today prove he is an asset, not a danger, to the area.

"He's almost like our guardian angel..."

He said: "There were a handful of people who were concerned before, saying 'oh this guy is standing outside our house staring, this bloke's really scary.'

"He can stand there for two or three hours just staring at your house looking for birds, but he's always very engaged and polite, and when he dealt with the police officers, he answered all their questions and let them search him."

Mr Middlemiss, who is also a Met Police officer, said in the evenings Mr Landa travels to the local shelter and uses the shower, then comes back to the island to bird watch the next morning.

He added: "He's almost like our guardian angel - it's so good, me and my wife were sitting here cheering saying 'we can't believe he's done something like this.'"

As the fire was brought under control and Mr Landa began to leave the area, a young boy walked up to the bird watcher and said: "Apparently you saved someone."

Mr Landa replied: "I saved someone? No, I just did a normal thing - the birds showed me and I went into the flat.

"It's just a normal thing to do."

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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