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Family woken up by deafening bang as lightning strike starts fire and leaves house in ruins

By Chris McCullough

Published 15/10/2016

The damage caused to Joe's house
The damage caused to Joe's house
The damage caused to Joe's house
Joe Reilly outside his home, which was hit by a suspected lightning strike
Joe’s son, Paul

A family from Downpatrick miraculously escaped injury after a suspected lightning bolt struck their home.

Joe Reilly was asleep in bed when he heard a massive bang at his home in Kingsfield Avenue around 6am yesterday morning.

The pensioner's son, Paul, and two grandchildren were also sleeping in the house when the drama unfolded.

Joe's son first saw the TV had blown up when he went to investigate the noise. He also noticed the light that usually shone in the landing was out.

Joe explained that the noise was deafening. He told the Belfast Telegraph: "My son alerted me that the house was on fire. I already had heard a loud crackling noise, which was the tiles on the roof burning.

"The fire alarm was sounding, but the noise from the roof was so loud the alarm was drowned out. My grand-daughter was also woken up by noise and ran into her father's room screaming.

"We got everyone out and called the fire brigade just after six o'clock. They arrived on the scene promptly."

Mr Reilly has lived in the house since it was built 25 years ago, but he will not be able to return for at least six to nine months.

"The roof has caved in," he explained. "The fire did immense damage to the roof and also damage to my neighbour's house.

"The lightning must have struck the TV aerial and travelled down the cable into the TV and blew the socket off the wall.

"It also blew the internet socket off the wall too. Everything in the living room and in the rooms upstairs was ruined by the fire.

"The rest of the house has suffered water damage, but it's a house - it can be rebuilt. I am just very glad that none of us were injured."

Mr Reilly estimated that 90% of the items in his house had been ruined, some of which had great sentimental value and can never be replaced.

"I lost my wife five-and-a-half years ago," he told this newspaper. "A lot of her belongings - which have a great deal of sentimental value to me - have been ruined.

"The neighbours here have been very helpful to us. In fact, I am right now standing in a pair of shoes that one of the neighbours gave me because mine are all ruined.

"The insurance assessors have been through the house and are sorting me out with alternative accommodation until my own house can be repaired, which will take six to nine months."

Chris McLoughlin, the Downpatrick station commander of the NI Fire & Rescue Service, said: "We were alerted at 6.07am and arrived soon after to a developing fire on the roof with local crews from Downpatrick and one from Ballynahinch.

"We have determined the cause to be accidental, with lightning the probable cause."

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