A FATAL fire which tore through a family home killing a 71-year-old woman started inside a wheelie bin.

Investigators have not ruled out arson although it is still not certain what caused the blaze.

Detectives and the fire service are piecing together the events which led to the tragedy at the house in Little Holme Walk, Great Lever, on Monday night.

Grandmother Hameeda Begum was killed in the blaze.

Her daughter, 24-year-old Saima Main, and granddaughter, Alana Main, aged five, escaped but suffered burns and the effects of smoke.

Three firefighters were seriously injured, with one suffering 50 per cent burns.

Chief Inspector Sara Wallwork of Bolton CID, said: "At this stage, evidence suggests that the seat of the fire was in one of two wheelie bins which had been placed in front of the house by the family."

An investigation showed there was no evidence of accelerants being used.

Ch Insp Wallwork added: "We cannot rule out the possibility that someone may have deliberately set fire to the bin. But until there is firm evidence that the fire was started deliberately we cannot categorically say that this was an arson attack.

"On the night in question, police officers, firefighters and members of the public showed tremendous courage and team work.

"Our colleagues from the fire service were faced with a large scale fire when they arrived at the scene and a number of them were injured, one of them very seriously.

"Neighbours and other members of the community also showed incredible bravery in attempting to help the rescue effort."

Mrs Begum's husband, Mumtaz Ahmed Chishty, aged 73, who escaped the fire with minor injuries, paid tribute to his wife.

He said: "We were married for 45 years and I've known her all my life. She was a dedicated and devoted grandmother, mother, wife and member of the community. She had a great sense of humour and if anyone ever came to her for help she was always there for them.

"That night, I truly feel that she saved my life. She woke me up when the alarm went off. I feel that she sacrificed her life to save her children and me. I cannot forget this.

"Last Sunday, she went to a community wedding at which she met most of the people she knows and she had a wonderful time.

"On the day of the fire, she was calling relatives from all over the world. These are the lasting images of her.

"I really want to thank everyone who came to my family's aid that night. Neighbours, police, firefighters - all did as much as they could to save my family. I also want to express my gratitude to the firemen who put their lives on the line that night and the community have sent them flowers as a show of their support."

Saima Main is now in a stable condition at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

Alana was taken to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital at Pendlebury. She has since been transferred to a specialist burns unit in Leicestershire, where her condition is described as poorly.

A post-mortem examination was due to take place on Mrs Begum yesterday.

Officers are appealing for witnesses and particularly want to hear from anyone who was in the vicinity of Little Holme Walk between 10pm and midnight.

Anyone with information is asked to call Bolton CID on 0161 856 5740.

THE bravery of one of the firefighters seriously burned in the blaze was revealed last night.

Four firefighters forced their way through the flames and smoke to reach the trapped family inside.

But as firefighter Steve Morris was bringing Mrs Begum out through the back door, a sudden surge of heat sparked a fireball which engulfed them.

Neighbours reported seeing Mr Morris staggering out of the house on fire as he bravely kept hold of Mrs Begum.

Mr Morris, aged 38, of Bolton Central Station's green watch, suffered 50 per cent burns and is being treated at Wythenshawe Hospital. His condition last night was said to be serious but stable.

Another firefighter went to the aid of a colleague who was at a first floor window.

A ladder had been leaned against the wall but did not reach the window sill.

Realising this, the firefighter balanced the ladder on his thigh and instructed his fellow firefighter, wearing full breathing equipment, to climb to safety, while he bore his weight.

Firefighter Mike Lewis, aged 36, is at Whiston Hospital, Merseyside, with burns to his hands and arms. Mark McCourt, aged 39, has been treated for burns to his arms and released from hospital.

A fourth firefighter, who has not been named, was also involved in the rescue and escaped with minor injuries.