Co Down farmer feared dead after ‘ferocious’ fire

The burnt out remains of the farmhouse at Annaclone
The burnt out remains of the farmhouse at Annaclone

An 82-year-old farmer who lived alone in a Co Down farmhouse is still unaccounted for and feared dead after a fire gutted his home.

Emergency services were called to George Mathers’ home – at Ballynafern Road, Annaclone – after being alerted by a neighbour at 7.18am on Saturday.

It is understood part of the first floor of the farmhouse collapsed and emergency services have to wait until it is safe to go in.

This could happen after structural engineers carry out security checks on Monday.

It is understood that the father-of-four, who had mobility issues, slept on the ground floor of the house on his own at night but was looked after by two of his sons who lived locally and worked on the family farm during the day.

Independent Unionist MLA, John McCallister, who lives “quite literally a couple of fields away” from Mr Mathers’ home said he had known the family “all my life”.

“The first thing we saw on Saturday morning when we got up was the fire and the flashing blue lights of the fire crews,” he said.

“It was a ferocious fire which you could see for miles when it was going.

“It has been very distressing and there has been a palpable sense of shock in the area and sadness for the family who have been in this area for generations. George had been in declining health for the past few years.

“He had been the carer for his wife, who died a number of years ago, in her last few years.”

Mr McCallister said he saw Mr Mathers’ sons since the fire to offer his sympathy and practical help on their farm.

“It has been awful for the family and a great shock for the community that the remains have not been recovered yet,” he added.

“That must be very difficult, very distressing for any family. The family were very much in shock at what has happened, but bearing up remarkably well.

“George would have been actively farming up to a couple of years ago. He was a beef and sheep farmer, he was multi-skilled and hard working.”

UUP councillor for Banbridge, Elizabeth Ingram, who describes herself as a family friend, said she wanted to express her “sadness and sympathy to the family who are highly respected within the local area and further afield”.

She said: “The local community are in shock at the happening of this tragic incident and I hope that with the support that has already been offered to the family, that they will find the strength to recover from this tragedy during the difficult days ahead.”

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Group commander Lloyd Crawford, who attended the fire on Saturday morning, said appliances from Banbridge, Newry, Rathfriland and an aerial platform from Portadown were used to fight the blaze.

He said by the time they arrived there had been “a partial collapse of the first floor on to the ground floor”.

“During the operation we had further collapses within the building. When we put out the fire the scene is handed over to the PSNI.”

A PSNI spokesman said police remain at the scene of the fire.