Rathfriland fire: Family 'overwhelmed' by offers of support
A County Down couple, whose home was destroyed by a fire that spread from a recycling centre, say they're "overwhelmed" by the support they have received from their local community and beyond.
Andy and Rebecca Peden and their two-year-old daughter escaped from the house in Kiltarriff Drive, Rathfriland, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The family lost all their belongings in the blaze, including their Christmas presents, wedding photographs and photos of their daughter.
However, in response to the news, more than ten thousand pounds has been donated online, with offers of help flooding in from across Northern Ireland.
Mr Peden said the outpouring of goodwill has brought back the sense of festive spirit which they believed was lost.
"It's been a real shock, but the generosity and kindness of everybody, it's just made it feel more like Christmas again," he said.
"We thought our Christmas was going to be lost this year, but the donations that everybody has given us will help to ease the pain that we've suffered.
"People refer to the help of the neighbours, we don't see them as neighbours now, we see them as friends. Without them, we wouldn't be here today.
"The shock of losing the house, it's a big enough shock, but the shock of the generosity and kindness of people, it's overwhelming.
"We can only thank the stores and the shops and all our friends and family and the local politicians from all sides, from the DUP, to the UUP, to Sinn Féin.
"They've all rallied together and it just shows that Rathfriland sticks together as a community, no matter what race, colour or religion you might be."
Mrs Peden expressed relief that they now have presents for their child on Christmas morning.
"Otherwise we would have had nothing," she said.
"Things are looking a wee bit brighter now and we're just so thankful. We're in a bit of a daze"
The blaze broke out at about 02:00 GMT on Tuesday. Mr Peden said he was woken up by a neighbour banging on the front door.
"There could have been three deaths, if we hadn't managed to get out so quickly," he said.
Forty-two firefighters worked to bring the blaze under control.
"The heat coming through the panes of glass was incredible, it was boiling hot," said Mr Peden.
"I ran upstairs to wake Rebecca and Daisy [their daughter], just to tell them that there was a fire.
"Rebecca grabbed the child out of bed and started to come downstairs, I had to run up past her to get the keys for the front door.
"As soon as I opened the door the embers and the heat just met me at the front door and I knew we had to get out, I knew the fire was going to spread."
He added: "I just wanted my family to be safe, that was all that mattered to me."
The family had to borrow clothes as they left the house in their nightwear.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the incident was of great concern to him, "especially given the fact that there was a risk to human safety".
"Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) officers are providing guidance and assistance to the fire service and they are assessing the environmental impact of the fire.
"NIEA officers have initially assessed the impact to the environment as low."
Other politicians praised firefighters for tackling the blaze in challenging conditions.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, of the SDLP, said there was "huge relief that nobody was killed or injured".
Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard said that was "no doubt due to the prompt response of the Fire and Rescue Service".
County Down fire crews from Rathfriland, Newry, Warrenpoint and Banbridge took part in the operation, along with a command support unit from Lisburn, County Antrim.
"On arrival, crews noted the fire involved one detached dwelling and plastics stored in the yard of a nearby factory," Paddy Gallagher, the fire service's area commander, said.
He added conditions were "particularly difficult due to high winds".
Last month, the assembly heard that since 2010, there had been 18 fires at waste recycling sites across Northern Ireland.