Northern Ireland

West Belfast family left homeless by Christmas day fire

A young mother and her six children have been left homeless after a fire destroyed their west Belfast house at lunch-time on Christmas Day.

Eileen Wilson, 33, and her children were visiting relatives when the blaze gutted their Moyard Parade home.

Their possessions were all destroyed, including presents and a pet snake that one of the children got for Christmas.

"Everything was ruined. I had got tvs and phones, everything they asked for and it was ruined," said Ms Wilson.

"I was at my father's. Somebody phoned over and said that the house was on fire. We came over and it was gutted. There was nothing left in the house at all."

Since the fire destroyed everything in the house, the local community have got together to support the family which includes four boys and two girls aged from 15 years to nine months.

Patrick McDonnell who lives close by was on his way to visit relatives when he saw smoke coming from the house.

"I ran over. The smoke was coming out underneath the door. I hit the door a few times. I burst the door open and other neighbours came on the scene. You could hear the wood cracking on the ceilings, the smoke was thick and heavy.

"A neighbour had a hose out trying to minimise it. We were going to have to run in. But another neighbour said the kids were not there," he said.

"The fire brigade were there in minutes. The family came back with the clothes they had on them going out... that is all they had. When you see the devastation of what that family has gone through.

"There are collections around the street. Everyone is starting to come together. We have raised about £1,000 so far."

Ms Wilson and her baby son are currently staying with neighbours - her other children are staying with relatives.

Image caption The mangled remains of the family's possessions lie outside the house in Moyard Parade

"The community has rallied around. £300 was raised on Christmas night and toys were collected for the kids so that they would have something to play with," said Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan.

"The house was very badly damaged. The Fire Service said that, had anybody been upstairs, they would have had great difficulty getting out.

"We could have had a complete catastrophe had the fire broken out in the middle of the night with all the kids in bed. Thankfully that didn't happen. The house is destroyed, all the furniture is destroyed, all the kids' presents are gone.

"It was bad, but we can be thankful we are not wakening up to a catastrophic situation where people were killed."

The Fire and Rescue Service believe the fire began accidentally because of a fault with a kitchen appliance - possibly a fridge or a tumble dryer.

Two fire appliances attended the scene after a call at 1330 GMT on Sunday.

Substantial fire damage was caused to the ground floor of the house and there was smoke damage in other parts of the house.

Meanwhile, people who can offer clothes or household items to the family have been asked to bring them to the Upper Springfield Resource Centre on the Whiterock Road, Belfast, between 14:00 GMT and 16:00 GMT on Tuesday.