A HOMELESS man reunited with his family after a decade has died in a fire in a charity hostel.
Staff and fellow residents at Lindley House, in East Reach, Taunton, alerted by smoke billowing from under his door, made frantic efforts to rescue Rob Lewis, 51.
Firefighters managed to drag him from his room, but he later died from extensive burns.
An investigation into the tragedy at the Taunton Association for the Homeless (TAH) premises is underway, although it is thought the fire may have been caused by a cigarette Mr Lewis had been smoking in bed.
Susan Hunt paid tribute to her brother who was pronounced dead at Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital hours after the fire which started shortly after midnight last Thursday.
“Rob always had the love and support of his family and we tried to help him,” said Mrs Hunt.
“He was always smiling and cracking jokes. He was happy and lived life the way he wanted to. He was a character.
“The family has been so touched by the lovely flowers and messages left outside his room.”
Taunton-born Mr Lewis, who leaves three grown-up daughters, Natalie, Jade and Hayley, his mother, a sister and brother, moved to Exeter several years ago, during which time he lost contact with his family.
“He came back to Taunton and got back in touch after ten years,” said Mrs Hunt.
“The manner of his death is a tragedy – we’d already lost him once, but we got him back only to lose him in such a terrible way again.
“He wasn’t in the best of health, but this has come as a terrible shock to all of us.
“His injuries were so severe that no-one would have survived them.”
A TAH spokeswoman said Mr Lewis was remembered “with great affection” by staff and residents at Lindley House, where he had lived since March last year.
She added: “Flowers and written tributes from TAH residents have appeared outside his room, with references to him as ‘a true gent, always looking out for others and capable of making them laugh’.
“Younger residents have already said how much they will miss him, viewing him as somewhat of a father figure and calling him ‘pops’ or ‘gramps’ and ‘looking to him as family’.
Tributes left to him included: “You were always there if I needed to chat or offload.”
And: “Rob, your smiles and nods meant more than you know.”
An inquest is being opened and adjourned today (Thursday).