Three women were dramatically rescued by courageous gardai from a house fire in Clonmel that was started by a wheelie-bin being dragged up to the front door in the early hours of last Friday morning and set alight.
One resident of the house in Albert Street told The Nationalist the smoke was so dense she feared they were all going to die in the fire.
The wheelie bin outside the rented house was pulled up to the front door and maliciously set alight around 3.30am while the three Polish women were asleep in upstairs bedrooms.
One of the women was the 61 years-old and uses a walking frame as she suffers from Multiple Sclerosis.
Gdas Fergal Coffey, Roberty McCarthy and Sgt. Donal Keogh had to kick in the wooden front door of the house and bring the women to safety. The wheelie bin outside the end of terrace house was one of four maliciously set on fire in that area of Clonmel last Friday morning.
The other wheelie-bins were set alight outside houses in Connolly Park and Western Park. Their owners had placed them on the paths outside their homes ready for the refuse collection on Friday. One of the bins set alight in Connolly Park was positioned in front of a gas meter box.
The bin outside the house on Albert Street was the only one to be pushed up to a front door. The entire front door area of the house was destroyed and left blackened and charred the morning after. The wheelie was completely melted and all that remained was some charred rubbish.
Gardai believe that the fact it was wooden may have saved the three women. A PVC door would have been melted and caused the fire to spread more rapidly through the building.
A car was also parked in the small drive way of the house and luckily the fire didn’t spread to it.
The Polish woman, who spoke about her terrifying experience to The Nationalist, recalled that she went to bed that night around 2am after returning from work at 1am. “I woke up about 3.30am and heard the crackling of fire and I just said to my room mate that something was wrong. She said everything was grand but I got up and went to the window and saw the fire,” said the 30 year-old immigrant, who didn’t wish to be named.
“I rang the Gardai straight away and told my room mate to go look on her mam, who was sleeping in the back room. We woke her. She is very sick. She has MS and has problems with walking.”
She said the smoke was so thick in the house that they couldn’t go into the corridor and had to lean out the window to get air.
Gardai investigating the other wheelie bin fires arrived on the scene very quickly and a man living next door started filling bucket loads of water and relayed them to the officers, who threw them on the burning bin and doorway.
When the fire was put under control, the gardai kicked in the door and got the women out of the house. All three women were brought to South Tipperary Hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation.
“I was terrified,” said the Polish woman last Friday afternoon following her discharge from hospital. “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. When I opened the door of the bedroom and saw all the smoke I thought we were going to die. It was so bad.”
She said her housemate’s mother was only in Clonmel a few days visiting her daughter on holidays. She was very shocked and frightened by the arson attack.
The Polish woman, who is living in Ireland five years, and her housemate have decided to find other accommodation after the fire.
“They are moving out because they are now afraid to stay there,” said the owner of the residence, who also didn’t wish to be identified. “It’s unfortunate because they loved the house and we loved having them. This is normally a very quiet street.”
Gardai investigating the spate of arson attacks carried out door to door enquiries in the Albert Street, Connolly Park and Western Park areas last Friday.
The are following a number of lines of inquiry and have appealed to anyone with information on the spate of arson attacks to contact Clonmel Garda Station with information.
The gardai believe the wheelie bin fire in Albert Street was a purely random attack and don’t believe that its residents were targetted because they are foreign nationals.
Gda. Supt John Courtney of Clonmel Garda District said this was a very serious incident and the Gardai were shocked by it.
“This type of anti-social behaviour just won’t be tolerated. We will be making every effort to identify the culprits and prosecute them,” he said.
The incident bore some disturbing similarities to the house fire in Elm Park, Clonmel in April, 2007 in which 50 year-old Ann Marie O’Neill was killed. That fire was started when the couple’s car parked close to the house was set alight and the fire spread to the house.
Last June, 37 year-old Jason Murphy of 31 Elm Park, Clonmel was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the manslaughter of Mrs O’Neill and received two concurrent sentences of 12 years for arson.
Clonmel Garda Station can be contacted at (052) 6122222.