Miguel and Fatima had been returning to their 13th-floor flat in the early hours when the lift stopped at the fourth floor. They saw the smoke and Miguel went up to wake his children and neighbours while Fatima waited outside.
The couple are originally from Portugal. He is a chauffeur and they had saved for the ÂŁ82,000 they needed to buy their flat. Living there he had become good friends with Marcio and his family. As soon as he escaped, Miguel phoned Marcio and urged him to get out.
The fire service, however, had told the family to stay put. Twice they had tried to escape, but the smoke had beaten them back. With Miguelâs phone calls growing more urgent, Marcio contemplated the enormity of the decision he had to make.
âMiguel said, âLook, you need to go outâ and obviously he was getting very agitated about it, and I said: âIâve already tried twice,â he recalls. âThen I said: âItâs just pitch black,â and itâs thick black smoke. You couldnât even see your hand in front.â
Marcio could hear Miguel growing increasingly agitated and distressed. âYou can see actually this is a lot worse than what youâre thinking. And also I had my neighbour and her daughter so, itâs a lot of responsibility if things go wrong. Iâm thankful for Miguel because he made me more aware that this is really bad.â
As the flames grew closer, he realised he didnât have a choice: âThere was no way we were going to survive by staying.â
Marcio gathered wet towels and tried to stay at the rear of the building as they descended the stairwell.
âYou couldnât see anything,â he says. âIt was pitch black, absolutely pitch black.â He didnât notice the dead bodies at first.
âWe only realised once we stepped on a body or tripped over – but there was nothing we could do for them and my focus was trying to get everybody downstairs. Luana and our neighbourâs daughter, they both then passed out at the same time. Didnât see where they fell, you couldnât see anything at all.â
It was firefighters who found the two girls and carried them to safety. They spent nearly a month in induced comas, as did 10-year-old Megan and Marcioâs wife, Andreia. She was seven months pregnant and, before the fire, the couple had decorated a nursery for the son they were planning to call Logan. On its wall they had written: âTwinkle, twinkle, little star, do you know how loved you are?â
Logan was stillborn when he was delivered and Marcio cradled him in his arms, willing him to breathe.
Marcio and Andreia tell how they escaped the blaze:
âI think weâre still processing it in all fairness, and I think we will always process it for the rest of our lives,â he says. âYouâre never going to be 100% as you were before. You try to move on, you know – thatâs how humans cope with things. Thereâs certain things I canât talk about because I get really emotional – to do with the night, to do with my son.
âYou try and make new memories and move on. I think you get better at controlling the emotions as time goes on but itâs still difficult and it will always be difficult.â
Marcio and Miguel have supported each other since the fire and feel that their weekly games of football provide an outlet for the grief.