| 6.6°C Belfast

Deaf pensioner’s lucky escape after arson blitz on two homes


Tommy and Karen McWatters lived in the gable end house next door to Karen's mother.

Tommy and Karen McWatters lived in the gable end house next door to Karen's mother.

Tommy and Karen McWatters lived in the gable end house next door to Karen's mother.

A mother and daughter have told how they’ve been left homeless after an arson attack destroyed their houses.

Speaking from beside the burnt-out shell of her former home, Karen McWatters was | to tears as she described how her elderly deaf mother could have been killed in the reckless fire attack.

Arsonists set fire to the grandmother’s wheelie bin at around 6pm on Thursday night. Located beside the oil tank, a ferocious blaze quickly took hold and engulfed both her house and her daughter’s next door.

The two houses, in Rathfern Way, Newtownabbey, were barely more than blackened shells yesterday, the smell of oil still in the air as workers attempted to make the structures safe. Bits of burnt debris littered the ground while Karen and husband Tommy surveyed what was left of their home

Karen said if her mother had not been having dinner at their house along with her nephew, she would not be alive today.

“If she hadn’t been at ours, we would have been out at a church meeting and she wouldn’t have heard anything because she’s deaf,” she said.

Karen described how a neighbour knocked on the door to tell them her mother’s wheelie bin had been set alight, and how quickly the flames took hold.

“We went round and very quickly her oil tank ignited and we got her out of the house up to another neighbour’s,” she said. “And within a very quick space of time it came from the oil tank to our house and our oil tank went up.

“In about 10 to 15 minutes the oil tanks had ignited and the houses went up.”

Firefighters spent four hours tackling the blaze, which left “very little” salvageable.

But despite losing almost all of their possessions and valuables in the fire — including her wedding dress and photo albums — both Karen and Tommy were trying to stay positive.

“We are just so thankful that |we all got out,” she said. “Thankfully the fire brigade were so quick or it could have spread to the other houses.

“We are both Christians and we know God was watching over us last night. The circumstances could have been different — my mummy could have been dead, all four of us could have died.

“It’s going to be hard and there will be some very difficult days, but we will get there.”

She said the local community had rallied around, providing food and essentials.

“The neighbours have been tremendous,” she said, adding that members of their church had brought them clothes.

The DUP’s Nigel Dodds and Nelson McCausland visited the scene yesterday, promising to provide some help to those affected.

North Belfast MP Mr Dodds praised the NI Fire and Rescue Service for a “fantastic job” and said he and Mr McCausland were preparing to meet with the PSNI to talk about tackling anti-social behaviour in the area.

“We also need parents to exercise greater control over some of these kids,” he said. “We need to stop vandalism like this other-wise someone is going to get killed, and it was a very near miss last night.”

Belfast Telegraph