Couple who lost everything in Rathfriland blaze 'lucky to be alive'
A family left with nothing after their home burnt down days before Christmas have told how they are just grateful to be alive.
Andy and Rebecca Peden and their two-year-old daughter Daisy fled the house in Rathfriland early on Tuesday, barefoot and in their pyjamas, forced to leave irreplaceable mementos of their lives behind.
A police investigation has been launched into the fire that spread from a recycling plant, thought to have been started maliciously.
The Pedens' home on Kiltariff Drive was completely destroyed in the blaze which broke out at around 1.45am. Despite losing everything, the couple have been heartened by the generosity of the public, with people donating thousands of pounds and bags of clothes via an online campaign.
Exhausted and still in shock, Rebecca (25) spoke to the Belfast Telegraph from her grandparents' house where the family have taken refuge. It is right next door to her parents' house where she grew up.
She said: "We were so happy to get into our lovely new home and had put our own little touches in, our own little bits and pieces in it to make it our own. We've been on to the Housing Executive to find a place, but we'll stay here until we can get one."
Rebecca also told how she "did not know where her head was" as she recounted how the fire had swept through her home.
"Andy heard something and looked out the window and his car was on fire," she said.
"Then he woke me and said the house was on fire and to grab the child and get out. She hadn't been sleeping well, so I had her in bed with me. I just had to grab her and go."
Rebecca, who works at her uncle's family business in the town, revealed that it had been a neighbour's knocking that must have woken up her husband in the first place. It is believed they detected the fire before the smoke alarm, which began to sound as the couple made their escape.
The terrified family first took refuge with neighbours before Rebecca's grandfather, Bill McKinstry, a former firefighter, arrived to bring them to his house.
She said that although scared and shaken, she and Daisy were fine, but 27-year-old Andy had to receive oxygen from paramedics before they declared him fit.
Rebecca expressed her gratitude to those who had donated to the fundraising drive and said she was grateful her little girl and husband were safe and well.
"When you see how Daisy's bedroom was so badly damaged, the windows and the roof and all, we're just lucky it's not something a lot worse today," she said. Priceless belongings Rebecca is particularly upset about losing include the hospital wristbands Daisy wore when she was born prematurely.
Her wedding dress went up in the flames and her husband's wedding ring is also feared lost forever. "He has two wedding rings, one good one and one that he wore to work, and the good one was in the car," Rebecca said.
Rebecca also spoke with sympathy about her landlord. "It was his first home too," she said.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said there was "huge relief that nobody was killed or injured".
Sinn Fein MLA Chris Hazzard added that the reason no one was hurt was "no doubt due to the prompt response of the fire and rescue service".