Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Tricia was hanging out the window screaming 'help me, help me, I'm burning...'

An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire.
An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire.

Friends and neighbours of a mother of four who died in a house fire have told of their desperate attempts to rescue the victim while she screamed for help.

Patricia Hetherington, believed to be aged in her mid-40s, died when a fire broke out in her Lenadoon Avenue home in west Belfast early on Thursday.

Her sons were also among those who battled in vain to attempt to reach their mother, who was last seen screaming for help from the skylight of her home.

Neighbour James Blake was one of the first on the scene and attempted to rescue the woman by kicking down her front door.

"I didn't care, I just saw the smoke and heard her screaming for help – I would think anyone would do the same," the 33-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph.

James's partner Jacqueline Shortt was first to notice the fire and raised the alarm.

She said: "Tricia was hanging out of the window calling at me to help her. She was screaming 'help me Jacqueline, help me, I'm burning'. I was shouting at her to try and stand on something to help her climb up through the window, but she just said she couldn't. It was horrific.

"James, he just didn't care, he went straight to the door and kicked it through, but the smoke and the fire were just too much. No-one could have got through that.

"The fire was so violent and so quick to spread through the house, there were windows exploding, and when the fire service showed up they knew there was no hope."

Jacqueline also paid tribute to her friend.

"We were neighbours and friends since I moved in and she was such a lovely girl," she added.

"She would have always been out chatting away with a bit of biz, or just seeing what was going on. It's hard to believe she is gone and a lot of people will miss her."

Ms Hetherington lived with her teenage daughter and adult son who were not in the house when the fire broke out. Two older sons also attempted to rescue their mother, but were beaten back by the flames and smoke.

Residents were visibly shaken by the incident. Some spoke of their sorrow over the loss of a well-known and well-liked member of their community who had lived in the area for the past 20 years. One heartbroken neighbour said Patricia was a "great woman" that "would always do you a good turn".

Grainne Loughran helped babysit the victim's children when they were younger and their two young daughters were best friends.

She said: "She was such a normal, nice person, we were very close and went on holidays together.

"She enjoyed life and worked so hard to bring up her children. We are all devastated and my sympathies go out to the children who have lost their mother."

Investigators remained at the scene for most of yesterday.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known. The Fire Service has said investigations were likely to continue into today. Ms Hetherington was found in the attic bedroom of the property. Alan Hamill of the Fire and Rescue Service says crews faced very "punishing" conditions.

When crews arrived, the upstairs windows had been blown out by the force of the flames.

"The first crews were faced with a very severe fire in the first floor and attic area of a semi-detached house," he said.

"It became apparent very quickly that there was the possibility someone was still inside the property. There was severe heat and flames were licking out through windows and certainly it was very, very heavily smoke-logged."

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