House fire 'hero' saves Londonderry couple from blaze

Burnt handbag
Image caption The fire service said it was very nearly a 'double tragedy'

A Londonderry man has been hailed a "hero" after rescuing a couple from a blaze in what the fire service said was "nearly a double tragedy".

The man and woman are being treated at Belfast's Royal Victoria hospital after a fire at Altcar Park in Galliagh on Saturday night.

Neighbour Sean McLaughlin heard a fire alarm as he was on his way home.

He rushed into the house and pulled the couple - one of whom used a wheelchair - from the flames.

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Media captionNeighbour tells how he rescued couple from Derry house fire

"He was sitting on the bed, the flames were all around him and his legs were starting to take fire," Mr McLaughlin told the BBC.

"I managed to get him off the bed and put him in the wheelchair and I got him outside and tapped him down.

"I asked him if there was anybody else in there and he started shouting his partner's name."

Image caption A passer-by rushed to help after hearing a fire alarm
Image caption Fire station commander Andrew Russell said the incident was very nearly a "double tragedy"

Entering the bungalow for a second time, Mr McLaughlin described how a "thick black smoke" blocked his sight.

"I shouted her name and then I heard her, a wee soft voice shouting out to me: 'help, help!'.

"I asked her could she crawl towards me and then I just managed to grab her arm and pull her out.

"I saw she was on fire, so I got her outside onto the grass. I tapped her down and rolled her round on the grass," he said.

Image caption The rear of the property has now been boarded up

Mr McLaughlin said that about three minutes later the whole house was up in flames.

According to neighbours, the house was engulfed in flames by the time fire crews arrived.

"This was very nearly a double tragedy, if it were not for Sean McLaughlin who went into the house and saved the two occupants," said fire station commander Andrew Russell.

About 15 firefighters tackled the blaze, which the fire service said had started accidentally.

Mr Russell said the incident illustrated the importance of having a working fire alarm.