A LURGAN family’s Christmas has been destroyed after a devastating house fire broke out in their Shankill home.
Donna Craven and her four children were rendered homeless after her electricity box caught fire on Friday evening.
To add to her distress, Donna’s father contacted social services to seek help, only to hear the suggestion that her children should be put into “temporary foster care”.
The blaze started shortly after 6pm on Friday evening (December 16) when Donna and 13-year-old son Damien Lynch were in the kitchen.
Her other three children, Patrick (12), Shea (8) and Caoimhe (4) were at their grandparent’s house at the time.
“I was in the kitchen when I saw smoke coming out from under the stairs where our electric box is,” said Donna.
“Damien and I got out of the house, and within minutes the whole place was filled with thick black smoke.
“The stairs started to catch fire, so it was extremely lucky that this didn’t happen in the middle of the night. We would have been killed.”
The house, on Cherrytree Walk, has suffered extensive smoke damage and is no longer habitable.
Two fire appliances attended the scene on Friday night.
Most of the family’s belongings have been ruined, including the children’s clothes and Christmas presents.
Donna’s father, Chris Murray, hit out at the social services’ handling of the incident.
He said: “I contacted social services on Friday night to see if they could provide the family with emergency accommodation.
“I live and work in London, so the closest family Donna had was in Belfast.
“First of all, the guy on the phone suggested putting the kids into temporary foster care.
“I couldn’t believe my ears. The next thing he said was that the family should get a taxi to Belfast.
“I work in social services myself, so I couldn’t believe the guy’s attitude.”
A spokesperson for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said: “The Trust cannot comment on individual cases, however, if contacted by families in such stressful situations, our social work service will support and help them to find accommodation.
“The Trust did receive a call in relation to this incident and offered the appropriate support.”
The spokesperson added: “We have not received any complaints in relation to this case.”
Donna and her family eventually secured rented accommodation earlier this week - after spending the weekend in the Ashburn Hotel.
“It has been a terrible time for us,” she said.
“Caoibhe keeps asking me if Santa will know where to go to on Christmas Eve. It’s heartbreaking.
“I haven’t even got a change of clothes now because they have all been ruined by the smoke.
“Most of the kids’ Christmas presents are ruined as well.
“I’m just looking forward to getting my life back to normal after all this,” she added.