Family’s dog 
raises alarm as fire takes hold

Margaret McAvoy with her son Joe.
Margaret McAvoy with her son Joe.

A Lurgan man says he and his elderly bedridden mum are lucky to be alive after an arson attack at their home.

The blaze came within minutes of rupturing their oil tank, with the family dog Minty credited with raising the alarm.

Damage at the home of Joe and Margaret McAvoy.

Damage at the home of Joe and Margaret McAvoy.

Joe McAvoy (53) and his mother Margaret, who is paralysed as the result of a stroke, share a home at Thornleigh in Shankill.

Around 2.20am on Friday last vandals set light to a mattress in an alleyway which runs along the back of the house.

The fire spread to the wooden fence and had started to melt the oil tank, which is just feet from the living room where Margaret sleeps on a hospital-style bed.

Joe, who has also had a stroke, said the tank - which showed signs of heavy damage on Friday morning - had been within minutes of rupturing which would have caused an inferno that could not only have engulfed their home but those of neighbours too.

He told the ‘MAIL’: “I had been watching the Scottish referendum count but I got tired and turned it off. Minty was in with me and he woke me.”

Minty, a Bichon Frise, has been with Joe since he was a pup. A grateful Joe said: “I’m always getting shouted at for bringing him in. He saved our lives.”

When Joe woke and saw the fire he rushed back in to call the fire service before he bravely moved to tackle the blaze himself with a small hose, working desperately to prevent the oil tank from exploding.

Before being alerted to the fire Joe’s mum said she thought it had been rain on the window.

Joe praised the speed of firefighters who were on the scene within minutes.

There is no clear motive for the attack beyond sheer reckless vandalism but many in Shankill have concerns over tenants in private rented properties in the area, with late night parties and drinking sessions - the alleyway running along the back of the house is something of a drinking den.

The family of Joe and Margaret McAvoy want to see action taken to prevent further attacks on the home - the second in two years.

They want to see the wooden fence at the back of the house replaced with a metal one as a priority.

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said a temporary oil tank had been installed and the new permanent tank has been delivered which will be installed before the end of this week. A new like for like fence will also be erected before the end of the week.

She added: “The alleyway in which the fire broke out has gates at either end. We would remind all residents of their obligation to ensure the gates are locked when not in use. If any resident has a query about this or no longer has a key they should contact the local office on 03448 920 900.

“We inspect the alleyway on a regular basis and will continue to do so. Again we would encourage all residents to contact our local office if they note items dumped in the alley so we can arrange for removal.”

Neighbourhood Officers will continue monitoring and be consulting local residents.