HE lost three limbs in an explosion which engulfed him in a fireball and left him fighting for his life.

But yesterday smiling soldier Private Alex Stringer said he was still living his life as normal.

Last night the 21-year-old, from Bicester-based 23 Pioneer Regiment, described the moment he stepped on a bomb, causing a blast which threw him into the air and set him on fire.

Pte Stringer had been called out to search for improvised explosive devices as part of a specialist team to locate Taliban booby traps in Lashkar Gar, Afghanistan.

But as he and five comrades stepped out of a safe area in January 2011, Pte Stringer stood on a bomb.

Pressurised canisters in Pte Stringer’s pocket and backpack exploded, turning him into a fireball, as Taliban fighters launched an attack with machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and grenade launchers.

He said: “I took two steps and stood on the device – there had been no sign of it being there.

“I remember seeing a lot of sky and as I fell to the ground I thought this is going to hurt a lot.

“I looked around and saw my colleague on the ground and thought he had been hit.

“But as I tried to push myself up I felt my left side collapse.”

His under-fire colleagues – Corporal Colin Martin and Lance Corporal Adam Thomas – tried desperately to put out the fire with their hands and grit from the field before using an emergency stretcher to quell the flames.

Cpl Martin said: “Everything we were pouring on him didn’t work.

“We were chucking dirt at him and then Tomo (L Cpl Thomas) got the stretcher and put it on Alex, who was lying on the floor, and dived on top of him and put the flames out.”

Comrades worked to stem Pte Stringer’s bleeding and then carried him 300 metres through calf-high mud to an evacuation helicopter But even then Taliban fighters fired a rocket propelled grenade at it, missing the helicopter by about three metres.

The incident was captured in the BBC1 two-part documentary Bomb Squad.

Pte Stringer was airlifted to Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital where he was in a coma for six days, and doctors feared his vital organs would fail.

He said: “It was still life or death when I got to Birmingham, my lungs were hardening and my liver failing.

“They said if my lungs stopped functioning or my liver stops working that’s it.

“But the next morning I was sitting up asking for toast.”

Now the pioneer is looking forward and plans to marry his childhood sweetheart Danielle Taylor in July, and open a bed and breakfast business in Spain with school friend Connor Aldous.

Pte Stringer, who is now trying to build a new life in Essex with his fiancee and daughters Millie Taylor, three, and Harlie-Rose Stringer, 18 months, is waiting to start rehabilitation at Headley Court and will find out if he can have prosthetic limbs fitted. He said: “Just because I’ve lost my legs and an arm I’m still doing what I always did, there’s no difference.

“I take life as it comes, I don’t plan anything.”

In the same tour of duty, 23 Pioneer Regiment lost Warrant Officer Class 2 Charles Wood, 34. He was killed on December 28 while clearing roadside bombs in Helmand.

Yesterday, Pte Stringer was guest of honour at Brackley nursing home Juniper House, where he unveiled a plaque marking the opening of the new building.

A dozen comrades from 23 Pioneer turned out to support him.

Last June a concert called Eyes Front – featuring singer and broadcaster Isla St Clair and filmmaker Patrick King – was staged at Cooper School in Bicester to support Pte Stringer and raised cash for 23 Pioneer Regiment RLC Benevolent Fund and Commando Veterans’ Association.