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Monday 30 May 2016

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Town mourns after tragedy

Neighbours battle fierce heat and smoke in a vain effort to save baby from blaze

By Claire McNeilly

Published 06/08/2007

Divers searching the waters of Lough Erne near Devenish Island yesterday
Divers searching the waters of Lough Erne near Devenish Island yesterday

Heroic neighbours who ran into a burning house in a desperate bid to rescue an eight-month-old baby last night spoke of their devastation at being unable to save the child.

The baby girl, named locally as Chelsea Agnew, perished in the blaze at a house in Drumbawn, Enniskillen, which began at around 10am on Saturday.

Chelsea's mother Charmaine, her brother Corey and a family friend managed to escape before emergency services arrived at the scene.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, neighbour Martin Hopkins described how he tried to save baby Chelsea - twice - from an upstairs bedroom.

"I was playing football in the back yard with my son Dylan and his friends when they noticed the flames," he said.

"I ran down to the house. Charmaine told me the baby was still in the cot. I raced up the stairs but didn't get very far because of the heat and smoke. I couldn't see anything in front of me.

"It was a very scary scenario to be in, but all I was thinking was that, hopefully, I could get the child out. But I couldn't."

Martin explained that when the initial rescue attempt failed, he tried again with the help of two neighbours.

"Me and two other boys went up again with wet towels over our heads," he said.

"But we couldn't get further than the top of the stairs. There was a lot of smoke inside. We couldn't save her. We were badly shaken after that and we're still not right."

Sam Davis, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 14 years, also braved the smoke and flames in a bid to rescue Chelsea, after his children raised the alarm.

"I don't know if the bedroom door was open or not," he recalled.

"I couldn't see anything because of the thick, black smoke. I stuck my hand out to where I thought the door was, but the heat was unbearable. I had to take it away.

"Inside the house I didn't hear anything. My head said the baby was dead, but my heart said we had to give it a go. I feel guilty that we didn't get to the room to get the child out.

"If only we had seen the fire five minutes earlier."

Sam's wife Alice, who looked after Corey for several hours immediately after the tragedy, said Charmaine is still reeling from shock and devastation.

"Charmaine was hysterical," she said.

"She's no better today. I think she's in denial. It's a shock for all of us. When in happened it was just basically panic stations and everyone is still very shaken up.

"Charmaine is a very good mother, she's a fantastic mother, there's no doubt about that.

"Her parents have been a very good support to her since this happened." She added: "Chelsea was a beautiful child. She was a very pleasant baby who was always smiling."

Charlie McClintock, who lives in the house next to Charmaine, praised the children who raised the alarm as well as the emergency services.

"If it hadn't been for those children four people would have been dead," he said.

"No-one knows what happened, or how the fire started, but everyone has been very helpful. The police have been very helpful and very sensitive to the needs of the situation."

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