A family left with nothing after their Rathfriland home burnt down days before Christmas said they were just grateful to be alive.
Andy and Rebecca Peden and their two-year-old daughter Daisy fled their burning house in the early hours of Tuesday, bare-footed in their pyjamas and forced to leave behind irreplaceable mementos of their lives to succumb to the flames.
A police investigation has been launched into the fire, which spread from a nearby recycling plant and is thought to have been arson.
The Peden's home, a detached property they had been renting at Kiltarriff Drive, was destroyed in the blaze which broke out at around 1.45am.
Fire appliances involving 42 firefighters from Newry, Warrenpoint and Banbridge tackled the blaze at the house and the recycling centre, along with a command support unit from Lisburn, County Antrim.
Police have said the are treating the fire as “suspicious”.
Despite losing everything, the young Rathfriland couple have been heartened by the generosity of the Northern Ireland public who has already donated thousands of pounds through an online fundraising drive.
Over £4,000 was raised in just over 12 hours of the devastating fire.
Dozens of bags of clothes have already been donated to the family by well-wishers moved by their plight so close to the festive season.
This Christmas was to be the Peden family’s first Christmas in their new home.
But instead of waking up to watch their toddler daughter’s eyes light up to the treats her parents and Santa had in store for her, their dream lies in tatters, in the cinders of their home strewn out into the garden and across the street.
Exhausted and still in shock Rebecca spoke to the Belfast Telegraph from her grandparents’ house where the family have taken refuge. It’s right next door to her parents house where she grew up.
“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," she said
A neighbour alerted the family to the blaze, after spotting the fire before the smoke alarm sounded.
Moments later they began their evacuation.
“Andy told me to grab the child and get out," said Rebecca.
“Daisy hadn’t been sleeping well so I had her in bed with me so I was just about to grab her and go.
“When you see how her bedroom was badly damaged, the windows and the roof and all, we’re just lucky it’s not something a lot worse today.”
Police are working to establish the exact circumstances of the fire and would like to hear from anyone who noticed any suspicious activity in the local area during the early hours of this morning.
They would also like to hear from anyone who has information that may assist their investigation. They can be contacted on 101, quoting ref: 65 221215.
Sinn Fein MLA Chris Hazzard praised the prompt response of the Fire and Rescue Service.
He said: "This was a major fire in Rathfriland with a house, car and nearby recycling centre badly damaged.
"Thankfully no one was injured in this blaze and that is no doubt due to the prompt response of the Fire and Rescue Service.
"At the height of this fire 40 firefighters and seven appliances from a number of local fire stations were involved in tackling the blaze.
"Their task in bringing the fire under control was made all the more challenging by the high winds last night.
"There will now be a major clean up operation for those involved but thankfully tragedy was averted in this incident."
SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie also praised the work done by firefighters and expressed "relief" that no-one was killed in the fire.
She said: “There is a huge relief that nobody was killed or injured as a result of the overnight fire at the recycling plant at Rathfriland.
"I understand that a man, woman and young children were able to get out of their house in Kiltarriff Drive before the fire spread near their property in the estate.
"Fires always present dangers but at Christmas time, which is a period of celebration, hope and expectation, fires bring a degree of sadness and fear.
"I trust that the residents who had to leave their homes will be returned to their properties in time to celebrate the festive season.
“Commendations and praise must go to the firefighters from Rathfriland, Warrenpoint, Newry and Lisburn who have to work day and night in life-saving operations tackling fires, and on this occasion who had to battle strong winds and very inclement weather to bring the fire under control.”