The victim of a tower fire caused by an electric bike was an Afghan asylum seeker who fled his country after the Taliban retook control last year, The Times can reveal.
Abdul Jabar Oryakhel, 30, was staying with his cousin on the 16th floor of Twinnell House, in the Easton area of Bristol, when he was trapped in his bedroom by a fire in the flat at about 2am on Sunday. He fell to his death while trying to escape. Three friends who had stayed the night escaped the blaze, which led to 90 people being evacuated.
Oryakhel, a shepherd from a village in Laghman province, in eastern Afghanistan, had arrived in the UK aboard a migrant boat in February and had hoped to bring his wife and seven children to live with him.
Two of the friends, fellow Afghan asylum seekers who fell asleep in the living room, climbed out of the kitchen window and across windows on the outside, 50 metres above the ground, before clinging on to a ventilation grill for ten minutes. Police officers and firefighters used batons and a cutter to create an opening around a tiny window and pulled the men back in, as flames blazed around them.
The third friend, sleeping in another room in the flat, ran through the flames in the hallway to reach the front door and escaped down the stairwell. He was badly burnt and is still in hospital.
The top-floor one-bed flat belonged to Rohani Nasir, 26, a cousin of Oryakhel, who came to the UK in 2009 and works as a taxi driver in Bristol.
“Abdul Jabar had left Afghanistan in danger of his life,” Nasir said. “The night of the fire I cooked us dinner around 7pm and then left for work and said, ‘I will see you later.’ I cannot imagine that was my last time talking to him.
“He was very smiley and very kind and a very helpful person. For Afghan people he was almost like a comedian and brought a smile to their face.”
Bristol city council said investigators had established that the fire had been caused accidentally, by an electric bike.
Nasir said he had bought an e-bike a month ago on Facebook Marketplace and had kept it in a “storage room” next to the room where Oryakhel was sleeping. “It was perfectly fine and not faulty,” Nasir said. “It wasn’t plugged in . . . The storage room was next to the electricity meter which had been faulty.”
Nasir was working when he got a call at 2.20am “from one of the friends in the flat saying, ‘There is a fire in the house and there is no way we can escape’ . . . I called 999 straight away.
“They realised there was a fire when Abdul Jabar shouted from his bedroom, but by then they couldn’t escape the door from the living room and I guess Abdul Jabar couldn’t escape,” Nasir said. “They didn’t know about him falling [to his death] until I told them after they escaped. They are heartbroken and shocked.
“The fire got into the kitchen and they tried to jump from the widow and do something stupid,” Nasir added.
“I was down at the bottom [of the tower] talking to one of the guys and begging them please don’t make the mistake, don’t jump, just stay there, stay calm. One guy was telling me he was ready to jump but luckily I was talking to him on the phone and shouting at them from the bottom.
“You can say it’s a miracle, I don’t know how hard it could be for them to climb from one window to another with nothing to step on or hold. I guess [they managed it] because there was no other option.”
Children on the 13th floor have described seeing Oryakhel “slipping” from the widow and Mark Barrett, 58, a lorry driver on the fourth floor, heard a “muffled scream” and saw a body fall past his bathroom window. Bristol council said it had found that fire alarms and fire doors had worked well to contain the flames to the flat.
“We have spoken to his father-in-law but not his wife,” Nasir said. “We made him a promise that we would bring him to Afghanistan. They are going to tell his wife and children. He had four sons and three daughters.”
Nasir said he had brought his cousin from a hotel in Derby to stay with him while his asylum application was processed. Oryakhel had told him about his Channel crossing in a boat: “It was a horrible story to hear but now the story is even more [horrible].”