IT was a devastating weather event that came without warning, costing 18 lives in the UK and felling 15million trees.

The Great Storm of 1987 changed the landscape forever in many parts of the UK.

In Dorset, it claimed the lives of two firefighters who were working to look after other people’s safety.

Several days before the storms, forecasts suggested severe weather was coming.

But by Thursday, October 15, forecasting models suggested the weather would pass to the south of Britain and miss most of the country.

Strong winds were mentioned on the TV and radio forecasts that evening, but rain was expected to be the predominant feature. Nonetheless, severe weather warnings were sent to various bodies including the London Fire Brigade – and at 1.35am on Friday, the Met Office warned the Ministry of Defence that the storm could be so severe that the civil authorities could need help from the military.

The storm hit the south coast hard. At Belle Vue Mansions in Belle Vue Road, Southbourne, residents were lucky to be alive after the roof was ripped off and hurled 150ft into a neighbouring road.

The roof crashed into the front of Twynham House in Twynham Road.

Pensioners Alfred and Winifred Hazel narrowly escaped death as the storm tore through their top floor flat.

Mrs Hazel told the Echo: “We jumped out of bed and ran out. If not we would have been killed.”

Mr Hazel added: “Within minutes of us getting up, a 15ft roof beam landed on the bed.”

Moore roofs were ripped off at the Greystones block of flats in Highcliffe.

Highcliffe was also the scene of the tragedy that would unite the town in appreciation of its firefighters.

Fireman Graham White, 46, and sub-officer David Gregory, 47, were part of a crew returning to Christchurch fire station after dealing with roof damage in Beacon Drive, Chewton.

Their fire engine was on Lymington Road, near the junction with Hinton Wood Avenue, at 3am when a 12-tonne elm tree collapsed onto the cab.

Dawn broke on October 16 on a country that had been devastated.

The London Weather Centre told the Echo that morning: “We forecast strong winds overnight but nobody thought it would be anything like as bad as this. No one here has seen weather of this kind. We’ve had gusts of up to 94mph – the highest ever recorded here. “

Local authorities began a massive clean-up operation. Christchurch council estimated the damage to be worth £40,000-£50,000.

More than 350 trees on Bournemouth’s verges had been destroyed, councillors were told. Up to 500 beach huts had been damaged. Eighteen budgerigars and cockatiels were blown away when their aviary at the Croham Hurst Hotel in Durley Road South was uprooted, and only one was recovered.

In Poole, 20 trees were felled in Poole Park, with many more expected to be lost in the following months.

Poole council amenities officer John Walker told councillors: “I have had 30 staff working all hours of the day and night. Some of them have been close to collapse and I have had to send people home.

“I feel very proud when we have a number of people who are prepared to come out at all hours of the day and night and get on with the job.”

Teams from the Royal Marines at Hamworthy helped the effort, along with members of the Dorset Trust for Nature Conservation.

Meanwhile in Christchurch, the town rallied round to donate to a benefit fund set up by the mayor, Cllr David Fox, in memory of the fallen firefighters. The appeal had reached £5,000 within a few days.

The funeral took place on October 23, 1987, with hundreds of mourners lining the streets of Christchurch.

A cortege went from the fire station to the Priory, with the two coffins draped in Union flags and carried on a fire engine with aerial platform.

Nearly 200 uniformed firefighters from Hampshire and Dorset provided a guard of honour leading to the Priory doors, with more than 600 mourners inside. The firefighters’ sons Ian Gregory, 16, and Timothy White, 23, wore their fathers’ long-service medals.

Christchurch had rallied round to contribute to a benefit fund set up by the then-mayor, Cllr David Fox. The appeal reached £5,000 within a few days.

Cllr Fox said: “Christchurch is a small town and everyone feels a sense of loss.”

The men’s widows, Joyce Gregory and Susanne White, issued a joint statement after the funeral.

They said: “We’re just so proud it’s unbelievable.

“There are just no words to express how we feel. Firemen from all over the country came to pay tribute. It’s been fantastic.

“We wished we could have got out of the funeral car and shaken every man’s hand individually.”