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‘They’re heroes’: Teens from Young Black Men scheme rescue vulnerable people from burning building

One of the young men carried a blind man to safety over his shoulder from the fourth floor. He told The Big Issue: "We all had different roles, I said I'd find disabled people and another friend was pointing people to the exits."

Sakariye Digaale ran into a burning building and carried a man to safety from the fourth floor. Image: Coffee Afriq

A group of young men who ran into a burning building to rescue people after an explosion near their community centre in east London have been hailed as heroes.

The fire broke out at a tower block in Bethnal Green just before 6pm on Thursday, when the teenagers were on their way to their Young Black Men project hub nearby. After hearing a loud bang from across the street and seeing the smoke, they raced to the scene.

Sakariye Digaale, known as Zack, was outside the youth centre with his friends when they heard the explosion.

“There were five of us, we all had different roles, I said I’d find disabled people and another friend was pointing people to the exits,” Digaale, 18, told the Big Issue.

“We went up the floors knocking on the doors telling people to leave the building. A lot of people were shocked, they thought we were trolling them, so it was a struggle to explain to them we weren’t joking.

“I heard that there was a guy on the fourth floor who I had heard was deaf and blind, so I was trying to go to him to rescue him out of the building. So I put him on my back and took him down the stairs.”

“Being a Muslim, we’re trying to help guys. That could have been a dad, that could have been anyone,” he added. “And everyone’s thinking I’m a hero now and I’m thinking this is normal!”

It took around 100 firefighters eight hours to bring the blaze in Granby Street under control and no one was seriously injured. A second-floor flat was “significantly damaged” by the fire and explosion and there was heat and smoke damage to a flat above.

Zakariya Ibrahim, 18, was also among the group who ran into the building. He told the Big Issue: “I just know if I had my nan or mum in a building I wish people did that because nowadays I’ve seen people only care for themselves so I hope this changes people and it becomes a domino effect where everyone starts to help in any way.”

The Young Black Men project is hosted by Coffee Afriq – a community-based group supporting Somali and Black people in east London. Founder Abdi Hassan, named a Big Issue Changemaker for 2022, said he was “so proud” of the group and that “too often the narrative is different” when it comes to portraying young Black men in the media.

Fifteen fire engines and around 100 firefighters were called just before 6pm and tackled the blaze until after 2am on Friday morning.

“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus rescued one man from a second floor flat. He was taken to hospital by London Ambulance Service crews,” said station commander Paul Green.

“Another three people were led to safety by crews using fire escape hoods and a further person was assisted from the building. They were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and three were taken to hospital.”

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