AN investigation has been launched after an elderly woman died in a fire at a sheltered housing complex.

Dorothy Tebby, 87, died after being overcome by smoke in her flat at Cherry Orchard sheltered housing in Maybush Gardens, Prestwood, on Friday night.

Her daughter, Bryonie Wixon, 59, rushed to the flats from her home in nearby Graeme Avenue and desperately tried to reach her mother. Mrs Wixon was taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation.

Firefighters used breathing apparatus and specialised thermal imaging equipment to rescue 12 elderly and disabled people from the burning building. Most had to be carried to safety through thick black smoke that filled the building and cut off exit routes.

A thirteenth resident, 84-year-old Joan Rutter, was rescued by a heroic mystery member of the public who climbed into her smoky ground floor flat and carried out through the window.

Nearly 50 firefighters and police officers attended the scene. A command and control unit was set up and the building was re-checked throughout the night.

Assistant chief fire officer Andy Hickmott said: "Given the fact that some of the residents have restricted mobility, they were unable to get out of their rooms without assistance. But for professionalism and thoroughness of the firefighters there could have been many more deaths."

Mrs Tebby's son-in-law Patrick Wixon said: "We're desperately sorry that she died the way she did. We're not pointing the finger at anyone at the moment. It seems to be a tragic accident. But we'll wait to see what the inquiry says."