Freak fire destroys couple's home

The wife of a former soldier, who suffers from PTSD, says he has been re-traumatised after a freak fire destroyed their home.

By Carmel Robinson
Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 4:22 pm

Laura and Andy Whitelaw decided to light the fire at their home in Castleraw Road in Loughgall last Thursday night as it had become cold.

However, it appears sparks may have found their way through a hatch in the chimney setting a wooden truss alight and ultimately destroying their bungalow.

Laura (38) explained they had installed an all night burner and had been using it for almost two weeks prior to the fire with no issues.

Couple's home gutted in blaze

"At around 7.30pm we heard a type of knocking and Andy went out to check what was going on. He could see smoke coming from the attic and when he opened the hatch, debris fell down and he got his hands burned," said Laura.

They called the NI Fire and Rescue Service who, they said, were there very quickly.

"They ran out of water and there were no fire hydrants nearby. They had to wait for a water tanker coming from Warrenpoint.

"We had to stand with the firefighters and watch our house burn. It was completely destroyed between 15 and 30 minutes.

Couple's home gutted in blaze

"The helplessness you feel is indescribable but we were lucky our dogs, a Doberman and a Presa Canario, were safe," she said.

Laura said her husband Andy has been left re-traumatised after the blaze which has left them with nothing but the clothes on their back.

She was full of praise for their landlord who put them up in their own home after the fire, offering them shower facilities and washed their clothes.

"They also released our deposit so it can go towards a new house," she said.

Couple's home gutted in blaze

However they are wading through the paper work for the insurance company but says: "How can you put a price on precious memories which have all gone, photos of now deceased parents and grandparents."

They have had to put their two dogs in kennels and they are finding it heartbreaking not being able to visit and it is too traumatising for the dogs to see the couple leave after a visit.

Laura revealed that she has given up her full time job to be a carer for Andy who has suffered PTSD since leaving the military.

"He is so proud and we are both overwhelmed with the help and support we have received. He is more the type to be helping others than taking help, so this has been very difficult," she said.

Couple's home gutted in blaze

"When we get back on our feet we plan to give back and donate to charities that have helped us," said Laura, who has been very grateful for the help, even from high street shops, in their hour of need.

"We have nothing so we had to go and buy clothes and the basics. Even when the landlord let us stay in his house, he gave us shampoo but then we realised we didn't even have a toothbrush or a hair brush," she said.

Laura said one of their colleagues at a local radio station they volunteer at has set up a GoFundMe page to raise cash for the couple.

"It is the kind words that people have shared with us since this happened that has impressed me," said Laura.