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Devastated Loughall couple left with nothing as fire guts home of three months

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The house belonging to Andy and Laura Whitelaw, which was destroyed in a fire

The house belonging to Andy and Laura Whitelaw, which was destroyed in a fire

The house belonging to Andy and Laura Whitelaw, which was destroyed in a fire

The house belonging to Andy and Laura Whitelaw, which was destroyed in a fire

The house belonging to Andy and Laura Whitelaw, which was destroyed in a fire

The house belonging to Andy and Laura Whitelaw, which was destroyed in a fire

Andy and Laura Whitelaw

Andy and Laura Whitelaw

The house belonging to Andy and Laura Whitelaw, which was destroyed in a fire

A Co Armagh couple have spoken of their devastation after their dream house was destroyed in a fire, leaving them homeless.

Andy and Laura Whitelaw saw their beloved rented bungalow on Castleraw Road in Loughgall left gutted after going up in flames.

The fire started in the attic of the detached house, where they have lived for only three months, last Thursday night.

Andy (53) said: "As it had got cold, we had lit the fire.

"We had just got an all night burner fire installed and had done everything by the book such as having the chimney swept and tested with smoke pellets. Everything seemed to be fine.

"A spark or ember must have escaped via an open hatch on the concealed side of the chimney and then ignited the roof felt.

"We heard a huge bang around 7.30pm as if someone was battering the door.

"I went to see what it was and I stupidly opened the attic hatch where there was smoke coming down.

"At that point, debris fell on my hands and burned them quite badly, so they are all bandaged up at the moment.

"Then I stupidly got the garden hose and tried in vain to save our home but got burned again in the process."

Laura (40) called the fire service and four fire crews from Armagh and Portadown station and a water tanker from Pomeroy attended the scene and spent almost three hours tackling the blaze.

Despite having lost so much, Andy said they are grateful to have escaped with their lives.

"The roof collapsed onto the house and 20 minutes later it was an inferno," he said.

"If we had been asleep in bed we would have been dead as the roof and water tank would have come down on top of us, so that's the only solace we have.

"Thankfully we all got out okay with just the clothes on our backs, but we have lost everything.

"We have been left feeling helpless after watching our whole life burn down before our very eyes. Within 15 to 30 minutes, it had all vanished.

"All that's left are the walls and the chimney that caused the fire in the first place.

"What was to be a brand new start for us in the home we hoped to spend many years in has turned out to be a complete nightmare," Andy added.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service confirmed that the cause of the fire is being treated as accidental.

The couple are staying in a B&B in Portadown while their two dogs, Apollo and Heidi, are being cared for in kennels as they try to sort out their insurance.

Andy added: "We are trying to get our original deposit back from our landlord to help us to start again but we don't know yet what their insurance policy is.

"We were insured ourselves thankfully so it's now a matter of trying to sort what was covered in that. The insurers keep asking us for receipts which we can't supply because they were all burned. We are in a battle with the insurance companies to get us some temporary accommodation after this Friday when we have to be out of the B&B.

"At the moment we are just surviving on our credit cards, which will all have to be paid back eventually."

Andy, who is originally from Scotland, retired from the Army on medical grounds with Laura acting as his carer. He married Laura, who is originally from Holywood, in 2013.

"I have post traumatic stress disorder and we had chosen this house in Loughgall because of the isolation away from everybody else," Andy added. While the husband and wife, along with their dogs, were unharmed in last week's fire, they are heartbroken at the loss of their treasured life possessions.

These include priceless family mementos such as Laura's wedding dress and the ashes of their dogs who died last year.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe page with a £1,000 goal to help Andy and Laura get back on their feet again. They hope to raise enough money for a deposit and one month's rent on a new property. Andy added: "People have been so kind offering to give us second hand furniture when we find somewhere else to rent which can be a challenge with two dogs.

"The manager of a clothes shop in Portadown also gave us a discount on some clothes because the ones we were left in after the fire were covered in smoke. Several friends have been asking what they can do to help and one of them, Beverly Creswell, has been an angel in doing this GoFundMe page.

"Some stuff can be replaced but life events can't like photos and memorabilia from my parents and grandparents which are all now gone. You can replace a fridge or a table but not a bunch of black and white photographs from the 1940s and 50s."

To donate to the GoFundMe page, please visit this page.

Belfast Telegraph