Christmas decorations blaze destroys Belfast house
A West Belfast grandmother has been left devastated after an unattended candle caused her home to go up in flames. No one was injured in the blaze, but Anne-Marie McCann's property has been badly smoke-damaged, and "things could have been so much worse", her daughter said.
Anne-Marie (57) had just finished putting up her Christmas decorations and had sat down to watch television on Tuesday evening.
She left the candle burning on the hearth as she "nipped out for five minutes", only to return and find her mid-terrace house on Nansen Street had gone up in flames.
Ms McCann lives close to her daughter Rachael McCann, who was having a Christmas-themed family night and watching The Muppet Christmas Carol while baking with her four children.
Anne-Marie told the Belfast Telegraph: "I just nipped next door to see how the baking was going.
"I was only there for five minutes.
"I didn't even close the door - I was just hovering.
"When I returned to the house and approached the front door the heat was just intense.
"I didn't see any flames, just plumes of thick, black smoke and intense heat."
Rachael called the emergency services but they had already been alerted, possibly by a neighbour.
Two fire engines - dispatched from Springfield Fire Station - were quickly on the scene and the blaze was extinguished within 20 minutes.
Rachael (30) said: "I have four children, the two eldest - Caolan (13) and Megan (7) - always take turns to sleep over at my mum's house.
"Tuesday night was an exception because we were having a family Christmas night, otherwise one of them would have been in the house and would probably have been upstairs in the bedroom at that time.
"It could have been a lot worse, but the kids are still upset.
"They really love going to her house - especially at Christmas.
"It's the house they were born into and they still look at it as home. Mum is Christmas in the head, she collects loads of Christmas ornaments and decorations - this has ruined it for them."
Anne-Marie has lived in the house for 32 years.
Carpets, wallpaper and furniture throughout the property have been destroyed, and Christmas presents have been ruined.
Anne-Marie said: "Along with all the damage there's a lot of sentimental stuff that has been lost, especially stuff that belonged to my parents who are now dead. I am absolutely devastated.
"I don't know what to say, I really don't."
NI Fire Service group commander Geoff Somerville, who attended the scene, said: "The householder had only left the property for a very short time and when she returned she discovered a fire in the ground floor of her house.
"A Christmas decoration had fallen onto a small candle, which had been left burning on the hearth."
The property had been fitted with a smoke alarm, but it wasn't in working condition.
Mr Somerville urged householders to ensure they had a functioning smoke alarm.
"I'm asking people to give priority to fire safety and not to become complacent about it over Christmas. Check that you have working smoke alarms fitted in your house," he added.
He praised Anne-Marie's decision to share what had happened to her.
"Christmas is traditionally a busy time for NIFRS as incidences of fires in the home increase due to extra fire hazards such as candles, fairy tree lights, portable heaters, overloaded sockets and people using fires that have not been lit for some time," he said.
Ms McCann hopes that she can stop the same thing happening to someone else.
"This could happen to anyone," she said.
"It took just minutes.
"I can't imagine what could have happened, this could have been so much worse.
"I hope this will stop someone else from having to go through this.
"There wasn't anything near the candle, I can only assume it was a spark from it.
"I use them all the time. People buy them for me as gifts, but that's the end.