Belfast Telegraph

Residents homeless after Boxing Night fire at Portstewart flats

By Donna Deeney

Eight residents evacuated from sheltered housing in Co Londonderry after a fire broke out on Boxing Night will not be able to return for the foreseeable future because of damage caused by the blaze.

A fire started in one of the flats at a wing of Agherton Grange on Mill Road, Portstewart, shortly before 8pm.

The male occupant was treated for the effects of smoke inhalation at the scene before being taken to hospital.

Firefighters were back at the scene yesterday, where they said the incident was being treated as accidental.

All 30 occupants were evacuated to the local Presbyterian church hall. Among them was Karen Mulligan, who was just settling down in front of the television when the alarm went off.

"I had recorded Call The Midwife, put my pyjamas on and had a big box of Quality Street beside me when the next thing I heard was the fire alarm," she said.

"I put the cat in the carrier and went outside and waited.

"There are plenty of fire exits and we have had regular fire drills, so it wasn't too traumatic, but it was a really cold night and not how I had planned my Boxing Night.

"We were told to go to the front, which we did, and then we were ushered into the church next door.

"They were so nice to us, they gave us tea and sandwiches and sorted us out with somewhere to stay, and now we are back hoping to get into our homes.

"I haven't been back inside my flat yet but I hope once the Fire Service have given us the all-clear I can return."

Cameron Watt, chief executive of Alpha Housing, which owns the complex, said that unfortunately the damage caused by smoke and water meant that not everyone will be allowed back home immediately.

He said: "There are a number of flats where the fire and water damage has meant the tenants won't be able to return.

"The priority for me and my team now is seeking alternative accommodation for those eight people.

"It won't be within this complex; however we will try and re-house them as close by as possible."

The Fire Service, police and Ambulance Service, who were at the scene shortly after the alarm was raised, helped with the evacuation to the church hall, where Rev Richard Gregg said the spirit of Christmas quickly shone through.

He said: "Once the PSNI contacted us to see if they could use our church hall to evacuate the residents we opened the hall and members of our church came straight there and started making tea and coffee.

"Word filtered through and other people who saw the flames and smoke arrived with all kinds of food and blankets, and someone even brought mattresses in case anyone had to stay overnight. Thankfully that wasn't necessary because people went to stay with family and friends or were put up in the local hotels."

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