Police and neighbours had to rescue people and use fire extinguishers to put out a Blackheath hair salon blaze last week before striking fire crews arrived, it has been claimed.

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A fire broke out on July 10 at Westcombe Hill's Go West salon, the same day thousands of public sector workers including fire fighters were on strike.

And, while people waited for a contingency fire crew to arrive, police officers on routine patrol were first to arrive, with one getting burned as she tried to deal with the fire.

Neighbouring businesses also helped out by providing fire extinguishers, it has been said. According to one witness, police officers had to break down doors using battering rams to access the flats above before fire fighters arrived.

Witnesses described how one elderly couple, who lived above a neighbouring shop were alerted to the danger only after staff at neighbouring hairdressers Crystal Hair and Beauty raised the alarm.

Sonia Carvalho from the shop said: "We told the police to go in there quick because there's an old couple up there.

"Luckily they were safe. If it had taken any longer they could be dead."

She said: "People were trying to help. Everybody around here got fire extinguishers to try and spray on the fire.

"A lot of police were evacuating people out. It was going for about 20 minutes before the firemen came.

"But you can't complain about it because they were on strike. It shows how much we need them."

She added: "It was scary, of course. It was quite bad - people could have been killed."

A spokeswoman for Greenwich police said: "Officers immediately forced entry to the hair salon and used fire extinguishers from their vehicles and nearby shops to tackle the fire and enter the premises.

"A woman was evacuated from one of the nearby flats and sustained minor injuries."

Greenwich police Borough Commander Detective Chief Superintendent Helen Millichap said: "We would like to thank local shops and members of the public who assisted officers at the scene.

"I am really proud of what officers did and their selfless actions trying to save anyone who may have been trapped in the fire. The injured officer sustained burns to her hands. We all wish her a speedy recovery."

A spokeswoman for the London Fire Brigade said contingency crews were called out at 5.52pm and the fire was out in around an hour.

The fire is believed to have been caused by electrical lighting on the shop's sign.

Video by Joanne Balaraj