Neighbours have paid tribute to an elderly woman who was killed when a fire broke out in her home.

The woman, who has not yet been named by police, is believed to have been in her 70s and lived alone in the semi-detached house in Netherfield Green, Woodingdean, Brighton.

She was pulled from the building by firefighters. They tried to resuscitate her on the driveway but she was pronounced dead on arrival at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton.

Roedean station officer Andrew Gausden said a smoke detector could have saved the woman's life.

Firefighters today began distributing safety leaflets in the area and are urging anyone who knows of a vulnerable or elderly person without an alarm to call the fire service's helpline.

Crews were called to the address at 10.44pm when neighbours spotted smoke and thought the chimney was on fire.

Nick Horn, who has lived next door to the woman for more than 40 years, said: "One of the other neighbours and I touched the front windows and they were boiling hot. We could smell the smoke and knew there was a fire. We started kicking in the porch and when we got inside there it was extremely hot.

"The fire brigade turned up and kicked the door down and the lounge burst into flames and all the windows cracked.

"It was a bit of a shock. She was a pretty independent woman and used to go out most days. It's not a good start to the new year."

Jodie Brain, 17, a lettings assistant, saw the blaze as she went to bed.

She said: "I put my shoes on and rushed down to see if I could help. It looked like the whole room had erupted and then it went bang.

"It was not a nice thing to see. It was quite upsetting and made me cry."

Angela Prior, 41, used to help the pensioner - named by neighbours as June Bateup - walk from the bus stop to her house and unload her shopping.

She said: "She was a lovely lady, very sweet and always said hello to everybody or anybody. We are all quite close around here, so it's very sad."

Neighbour Jo Parrott added: "I used to see her a lot walking between the bus stop and her house. She always chatted and said hello. I really admired her and the way she made an effort to go out every day. She was very with it mentally. It's a terrible shame."

Forensic teams yesterday sifted through the remains of the building trying to establish how the fire had started.

Mr Gausden said: "This highlights the need for people to have smoke alarms. It is not just a case of looking out for your friends and family; if there is someone who is vulnerable or elderly and would benefit from advice, they need to get in touch.

"We know these vulnerable individuals are out there and we want to help them but it's reaching them that is the problem. People are scared to let strangers across their doorstep.

"We can help avoid tragedies like this. A smoke alarm would have undoubtedly contributed towards saving this lady's life."

For fire safety advice telephone 08452 300252.