A man who escaped with his family from a blaze that gutted his neighbours' home in Newtownards said they only got out alive because a passing motorist blared their horn to alert people to the flames.
The owners of the house in East Mount in the Ringhaddy area of Newtownards, which was devastated by the blaze that broke out after a ‘bonfire hut' close to garden fences caught light, had lived in the property for over 25 years.
Their daughter and son-in-law broke the bad news last night when they collected the couple after they returned from a fortnight's holiday in Turkey.
Arnold Palmer, who lives in the next door property, said that he and his family were lucky to escape alive.
They will have to vacate their home for several days because of smoke damage.
“I woke to the noise of a horn out the front,” he said.
“My wife went to look out the window and said ‘you'd better get up'. We went into our son's bedroom and lifted the blinds and what I saw, you couldn't imagine it.
“There were flames coming towards the window and it was already beginning to crack.
“The flames were the height of the house and the whole back garden was lit up. I want to thank the driver for blowing the horn, or it could have been a lot different.”
The makeshift hut, made for people to ‘guard' a bonfire on a green at the back of the homes, caught light early on Friday, shortly after 6am. It spread to a fence behind a number of houses and two oil tanks went ablaze. One firefighter suffered minor injuries at the scene.
Fire Service group commander John Denvir described how rivers of oil were running from melted tanks into the path of the flames and urged people to consider where they put 12th of July bonfires.
“The fire damaged two oil tanks which were in the yards of the houses. We then had a running oil fire which involved all three houses, but one was very badly damaged”, he said.
He added that the majority of bonfires were well managed, but the incident had demonstrated how quickly a bonfire can get out of control.