A nurse risked her life trying to save an elderly man who died in a fire in his nursing home room.

The nurse braved choking fumes as she attempted to rescue Charles Naylor, 86, from his room at Woodlands Nursing Home in Crowborough.

She and other staff threw a fire blanket over the pensioner to douse the flames which had engulfed him, sparked by his discarded pipe.

However, they were beaten back by heat and dense smoke and were forced to wait for firefighters to pull his body from the room.

Mr Naylor, who suffered 80 per cent burns, was taken to the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells and the nurse was treated for smoke inhalation.

He died just after midnight yesterday.

Mr Naylor, a retired dispensing optician, was said to have taken a pipe in his room at the nursing home every night before going to bed.

It is believed it had toppled on to his clothes and sparked the blaze just before 7pm on New Year's Eve.

The smoke triggered an alarm in his room, which set off the main alarm and staff rushed to his aid.

Residents in the home, in Beacon Road, were ushered to safety in another part of the building while firefighters tackled the blaze.

Staff were said to be devastated by the death at the 35-resident home, which is run by Lewes-based Sussex Housing and Care.

Chief executive Michael Goulden said: "This is a tragic accident and our sympathies are with Mr Naylor's family.

"I would like to praise the courage of my staff who attempted to rescue Mr Naylor.

"They acted swiftly and bravely.

"He was a regular pipe smoker and was allowed to smoke in his own room.

"Our staff were alerted when the smoke alarm was triggered, they carried out the appropriate fire drill and rushed to his aid with a fire blanket.

"They were driven from his room by the thick, black smoke and had to wait until the fire service arrived to deal with the incident."

He said Mr Naylor's daughter, who lives locally, went to Woodlands after the incident to be told of her father's death.

Woodlands, opened 18 months ago by the Duke of Gloucester, cost £2.4 million and has modern fire prevention equipment, including fire retardant furniture and smoke alarms in every room.

Sussex Housing and Care is involved in running five other care homes across Sussex, catering for about 750 elderly people.

The death was the first fatal incident to have occurred at any of Sussex Housing and Care's homes in its 50-year history.

A Sussex Police spokesman said: "The fire is not thought to be suspicious. It is believed to have started from a discarded pipe.

"The man died shortly after midnight as a result of his injuries. He had been taken to the Kent and Sussex Hospital.

"The nurse inhaled a considerable amount of smoke and was treated at the scene. She did all she could for him and used available fire blankets to wrap around him.

"It appears all safety precautions in the building were in place.

"The fire was contained in one room and all the other residents were safe."

An internal investigation is under way and an inquest will be held.