Northern Ireland

Car fire survivor Melanie Grimsley tells her story

Melanie Grimsley and sons
Image caption Melanie with her sons Leo, 1, and William, 3

Melanie Grimsley has not had an easy life.

Aged just two she was severely burned in a car fire which killed her older sister, and left her needing weekly operations on her injuries.

A lesser person may not have had the strength to survive the prejudice and bullying which accompanied her throughout her youth, to say nothing of the grief of losing a beloved sibling.

But at the age of 25, Melanie is happily married, working part time and has two children of her own. She has also learned to play the violin in spite of her fire damaged hands.

Now the County Fermanagh woman is writing her life story, and she has spoken to the BBC about her experiences.

"I had only just turned two at the end of March. The accident happened at beginning of April. I was very young - I don't remember the details of it," she said.

Many readers may well remember the story of the unexplained car fire outside a shop in Enniskillen in April 1988.

Melanie's mother had just gone into the shop to buy milk, and minutes later passers-by were struggling to pull her two young toddlers from a blazing vehicle.

Tragically, three-year-old Amanda did not survive the fire, while Melanie escaped with third-degree burns.

The exact cause of the fire remains a mystery, but Melanie has been living with the consequences ever since.

Serendipity

Even now, 23 years later, Melanie is still bumping into people who played a part in saving her life that day.

"I always feel very moved and honoured when I meet anybody who comes up to me and says, 'I was there that day,' or, 'I was the fireman,' or, 'I drove you to the hospital.'

"It is moving for me that they played a part in the day that changed my life," she said.

Some of those people, who were drawn into her life by pure chance in the first instance, she has met again through similar coincidence.

"I do a few talks locally about my own life story, and that's how I met one of the firemen. He just came up to me and said 'I was there that day.'

"Another time we met the paramedic who drove me to hospital after the accident. My little son loves ambulances, and one day we stopped to look at this lovely big ambulance, and we met the paramedic there."

'True bravery'

However, among all the people who touched her life that day, one in particular stands out.

Oliver Quinn was the man who risked his own life to pull Melanie and her sister from the fire.

The pair have been in contact ever since, and Melanie said that of all the events of the day, his action stands out as the most important.

"Whenever I think of Oliver, I just think none of us, me and my boys, none of us would be here at all without him.

"I'm just in awe of people that can forget all thoughts of themselves and do something for somebody else with little or no regard for their own safety. It is true bravery," she said.

Indeed, when her youngest son Leo, now 16 months, was born, Melanie chose to name him Oliver in honour of the man who saved her life.

'Not ashamed'

Image caption Melanie suffered third degree burns in the accident 23 years ago

Melanie said she lays no blame upon her mother for leaving her in the car that day.

Indeed, she attributes much of her inspirational success to the strength and courage of her parents.

In particular, she recalls a statement that they gave to a local newspaper shortly after the accident: "We're not ashamed of her and we're not going to hide her away," they said.

It is such an attitude that has encouraged Melanie to live a normal life, to step out into the world rather than shy away from it.

"It's because of my parents' strength and courage that I am the way I am now," she said.

"I owe everything that I am and everything that I have to my mum and dad."

Melanie's book, Beauty for Ashes, is due to be published later this year.