Three days shy of celebrating their first Christmas in the new home they moved into just weeks ago, a young family has watched everything they own go up in smoke.
Hailed a hero after snatching his family from their burning home, Andrew Peden (27) was forced to flee the house at Rathfriland’s Kiltarriff Drive, with his wife Rebecca and two-year-old daughter Daisy, after fire spread from a neighbouring recycling plant.
Now, as police investigate a case of suspected arson, communities in Rathfriland and Andrew’s native Donaghcloney are rallying round to support a family left with nothing but the borrowed clothes they stand in.
Within hours of being set up by Donaghcloney Councillor Mark Baxter and his colleague Councillor Carla Lockhart, a Just Giving page had brought in more than £4,000 for the struggling family, with pledges ranging from £5 to £500.
Andrew’s parents Geoffrey and Sandra Peden, from Donaghcloney, said everyone was just glad that no-one had been killed.
“We just thank the Lord it’s not funerals we have to go to on Christmas Day,” said Geoffrey. “Everything they have to their name was burned, their car, clothes, Christmas presents, wedding album, everything, but material items can be replaced.
“The roof collapsed after they got out and if they had been in bed they would have been killed; if the windows had broken and let in all the toxic fumes they would have been killed.”
Mum Sandra, meanwhile, was emphatic; her son, she said, was a hero for what he did for his family.
Wakened in the early hours of the morning by a neighbour’s frantic knocking, Andrew saw the fire engulfing the house and rushed back in to get Rebecca and Daisy out, cradling his daughter tight to his chest in an effort to spare her the same fumes for which he himself was later treated in hospital, having first collapsed in a neighbour’s house.
“We’re so proud of what Andrew did,” said Geoffrey, whose daughter-in-law had been horrified, he said, to stand and watch everything taken by the flames.
Geoffrey reported that the couple had quickly secured a temporary home in Rathfriland, where people, in common with residents in Donghacloney, were donating clothes and local charities were providing furniture
“People have been more generous than I ever thought they could,” he said. “On behalf of our family, Sandra and I would like to thank everyone, and particularly Mark Baxter and Carla Lockhart, who have done so much.”
Councillor Baxter said: “The most important thing is that no-one lost their life, but for this to have happened, and three days before Christmas, is just heartbreaking and a devastating blow to this family. My thoughts are with them.”
Should investigations reveal the fire at the recyclnig plant was set deliberately, he added, the people responsible could only be described as “mindless idiots” and he appealed for anyone who knew anything about the incident to contact police or Crimestoppers immediately.
If you would like to donate to the Just Giving appeal for the Peden family log onto https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/mark-baxter