Belfast Telegraph

Landlord's shock as he surveys shell that was once family home

By Chris Woodhouse and Kevin McStavock

A shell-shocked landlord stood on the spot where the back fence of his property once ran.

Tom forlornly pulled a digital camera from his pocket and began taking pictures of a scene of complete and utter devastation.

"This is the first time I've seen it, as I was fishing in Donegal," Tom (63) told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's a disaster. I've just arrived this second so I don't know anything about what happened."

Tom, who didn't want to give his surname, said: "My wife Jane, who is on holiday in Spain, telephoned my friend in Donegal, that's how I found out."

Just hours ago, the property on Dunmurry's Sunnyhill Park had been home to a professional family with a young child - they miraculously escaped the inferno unharmed.

They are now among several families left homeless after a blaze ripped through a row of terraced houses in the quiet commuter village on the outskirts of Belfast.

The house Tom was standing outside was bought by his wife as a retirement investment for the couple. He says he thinks it will have to be knocked down, because the the damage to the structure is so extensive.

Cracked bricks have crumbled off in shards and lie scattered among the debris at the back of the house.

A gaping black chasm is all that's left after the conflagration tore through the slate roof.

There is nothing left in the back garden, with just a green puddle of melted plastic marking the place of the oil tank and a heap of cinders where the shed once stood.

"There was a wooden shed here and it was a good shed, very expensive, I had renewed the fencing about a year ago," explained Tom as he looked at the black mass in the back garden.

We walked with Tom through the charred hole where the back door used to be and into what remains of the kitchen and dining room, still warm hours after the fire was extinguished. It was Tom's first look inside the house since the inferno was put out by firefighters.

"I think that used to be a tumble dryer in that cupboard," said Tom, pointing at an unrecognisable heap.

The remnants of cherished family possessions of the tenants - books, Christmas cards and picture frames - crunched under our feet in the black shell of the kitchen.

Cupboards and kitchen top appliances had been deformed by the blaze into barely distinguishable grotesque shapes. "Everything is gone, I don't know what to do from here.

"I suppose it's an insurance job now," he said quietly.

"My wife retired early a few years ago and she invested part of her pension in the house.

"She always kept it immaculate, redecorated the whole house when it was bought, she spent weeks stripping the floors, sanding them down and did all the walls, this was her pride and joy.

"I'm not in the best of health but when my wife got it I was in helping her, she spent months and months on it.

"When the dishwasher went she had a dishwasher in the next day.

"The house was costing money, it wasn't making money."

Tom walked through to the front hall, wading through pools of firefighters' foam with as water dripped onto him from the black rafters.

He peered through a hole in the nearly incinerated living room door and glimpsed greetings cards still miraculously lined up along the mantelpiece.

"These are from the people who lived here," said Tom, who did not reveal their names out of respect for the tenants who had yet to see the damage to their new home.

"They had only been in a couple of months, they were obviously delighted with it.

"They have a young child and the garden was well fenced and suitable for them.

"It will have to come down but as my wife said, the one good thing is that nobody was hurt."

With that Tom left to collect his wife so they can begin the slow task of salvaging the house.

Belfast Telegraph

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