Get a smoke alarm, urges OAP who had lucky escape as home went up in flames
A pensioner from Londonderry who had a narrow escape after her home caught fire has warned householders to get a working smoke alarm fitted.
Gemma McDaid's house was gutted after the accidental blaze that was possibly caused by an electric heater setting clothes on fire.
Returning to her home yesterday after spending the night with relatives, 77-year-old Ms McDaid was clearly shocked as she surveyed the blackened walls and ceilings left by an inferno that destroyed almost everything she possessed.
Ms McDaid didn't have a working smoke alarm.
But she wants people to learn from her experience just how important they are and get one fitted.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, she said: "I've lost everything; what's not burnt has been destroyed with smoke but I am alive and that's the important thing.
"I can't get over how lucky I am - when you look at this mess it is a wonder I got out. I can replace all these things but I might not have been here.
"It is unbelievable how fast the fire caught. I came into the bedroom, pulled down my quilt, drew the curtains and put on the wee electric fire to heat the room.
"I had things hanging over the chair and something must have caught fire. My television has been burnt to nothing, even the very bedside lamp, but they can all be replaced.
"I went out to the kitchen to get my tea and toast before bed and I noticed the light flickering and went back out to the hall and I noticed the smoke.
"I opened the bedroom door and the flames were leaping up. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed a wee bowl of water. I was in a panic and thought I could put out the fire with a tiny bowl of water - it's ridiculous now, but I wasn't thinking straight at the time.
"I ran outside and shouted: 'Someone help me'. And just at that Kathleen from across the street appeared.
"I know I am lucky, but I know too I should have had a working smoke alarm, and I want anyone who hasn't got one to get it right away.
"I won't make that mistake again and it will be the first thing I do when I get back here."
David Nicholl from the NI Fire and Rescue Service echoed Ms McDaid's call for people to install alarms.
He said the Fire Service will install a device free of charge for pensioners and disabled people.
"The fire was well established when we were alerted and destroyed the bedroom," he said.
"It had spread to other rooms and the damage was extensive.
"Ms McDaid was very lucky in that she was still awake when she noticed the smoke and was able to get out of the property.
"Ms McDaid had a smoke alarm a number of years ago but removed it.
"However, she told me she regretted that.
"We will carry out a home safety check and fit a smoke alarm free of charge to anyone over the age of 60 or who is disabled and will offer this service to Ms McDaid when she returns to her property."
Councillor Gary Donnelly, who lives nearby, was among those who came to Ms McDaid's assistance.
"The Fire Service did a great job here and that needs to be recognised, but also this shows the importance of having a working smoke alarm fitted," he said.
"If there is any good to come out of this it is to get people to check their smoke alarms or for anyone who doesn't have one to get one installed immediately."