evacuated | 

Wexford family forced to live in hotel after second fire at neighbour’s house in three months

‘Thank God the fires happened during the day. If they had broken out at night we would have been dead’

May Keegan and her partner John Doody with son Sean.

May Keegan at the Brandon House Hotel on Tuesday. Photo; Mary Browne

May Keegan.

Maria PepperWexford People

A Wexford family forced to live in a hotel after being evacuated from their house due to damage caused by a second major fire in three months at an adjoining property, have spoken of their distress at being made homeless

May Keegan, her partner John Doody and son Sean (13) of Haughton Place, New Ross had to abandon their smoke-damaged home last Thursday when gardai knocked on the door and advised the family to get out after a fire broke out next door.

It was the second time in three months that the neighbouring house had gone on fire. On the last occasion, they stayed with a relative before moving back in to sleep in a downstairs room for over a month while waiting for the upper floors to be chemically cleaned.

They are currently living at their own expense in the Brandon House Hotel at a cost of €125 a night because their home is uninhabitable due to smoke damage and toxic fumes.

"We will be here for a while I think, as long as we can afford it. There was a lot more damage caused this time”, said May who is a home carer for her son Sean who is being unschooled.

May Keegan.

The family bought their three-storey home in a terrace of three houses in New Ross 15 years ago and John works locally as a carer in a nursing home.

On October 29 last, May was cooking rashers in a George Foreman grill and wondered why it was getting so smoky. “We have a skylight in the kitchen and when it turned dark, I looked up and saw black smoke.

"Then there was a knock on the door and when I opened it the gardai were outside shouting ‘out, out, everybody out, the place is on fire, get out’. It took four fire engines to put the fire out on that occasion.

"Our house was very badly smoke damaged. Everything was covered in a horrible greasy black coating. The downstairs wasn’t too bad. I went to Dublin to my sister for a few days and John stayed in the house to clean the sitting room and kitchen.

"We slept on the floor of the sitting room until December 12. Crystal Cleaning Irish Fire and Flood came in on December 5. They had to chemically kill the toxins. Sean has a Lego room upstairs with hundreds of pieces of Lego and it was all covered in a black residue. They had to clean every single piece.”

"It took seven days to clean everything at a cost of €10,000 which was covered by our own house insurance. We got back in for Christmas.”

May said that after the first fire the Council came and boarded up the windows of the house next door and turned off the electricity and water.

She obtained a key to allow an engineer from her own insurance company to view the property and said he was reluctant to go upstairs because of the obvious structural damage.

May said the neighbouring property was occupied again in early January and she and John could see candle light flickering inside through the windows at night. “We were terrified that the house would go on fire again.”

Last Thursday morning, she was playing Monopoly with Sean in the kitchen and was still wearing her dressing gown when a loud knock came on the front door. “Sean froze. He was petrified because of the last fire. When I opened the door, there was a garda there and I could see flames billowing above my front door to the left.

"The garda said ‘get out of the house, is there anyone else in there’. I asked if I could go back in to change my clothes and was told there wasn’t time.

"I grabbed our dog Rudie and we went to a neighbour’s house across the road. Sean was very upset and broke down in tears. He said ‘everything I love is in that house’.

"It took four fire brigades from New Ross, Waterford and Enniscorthy until 5pm to put out the blaze. It was completely destroyed.”

John had to rush home from a funeral in Carrig-on-Bannow. He described how his 13-year old son had to run from the house with flames over the front door. “The last time a garda who lives nearby came and hammered on the door to get everyone out.”

The family stayed in the Brandon Hotel that night and have been there ever since. “Sean wouldn’t go back to the house. The downstairs is not too bad but I’m not prepared to sleep on the sitting room floor again for a month or two until the house is cleaned. We have a door on the bottom of the stairs and as soon as you open it, there is a strong smell of toxic smoke”, said May.

"I hadn’t even finished replacing all the clothes in my wardrobe from the last time. Crystal Cleaning had only just brought back a couple of rugs during the week. I had started redecorating and was picking new floor tiles and paint.”

"We never thought something like this would happen to us. I can’t believe it. We were just getting over the first time and now we’re straight back to square one. I think it’s still just sinking in.”

May, who is a native of Enniscorthy, said the family have received no support. When she contacted Wexford County Council on the last occasion, she was informed that there was no emergency accommodation or help available to them as it was a privately-owned house.

“We have received absolutely no help. No-one has contacted us. I went to the Garda station on Saturday and I spoke to the gardai but it seems that there is not much they can do either in the circumstances.

"I just want to feel safe in my own home”, said May. “I’m beginning to feel sorry that we worked hard and saved for a deposit to get a mortgage to buy our own house.

"When it happened the last time, we didn’t make a big fuss about it. I thought the services would play their part. I didn’t think the house would be occupied again but that is what was allowed to happen.

"Thank God the fires happened during the day. If they had broken out at night we would have been dead because our bedroom just filled up with smoke. If we had been asleep in bed, we wouldn’t be alive now.”

A spokesman at New Ross Garda Station confirmed that after the fire broke out last Thursday, the alarm was raised by two gardai on patrol who alerted County Wexford Fire Service. The officers forced entry into the house and rescued the occupant who was taken to University Hospital Waterford.

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