JUST 24 hours after four people died in a house fire in Dublin, a young Portlaoise family of four had to vacate their rented house when a blaze broke out.
Leanne Keogh and her partner Nigel Crean, along with their two children aged four and four months, who live in a house on the Dublin Road, had to flee the property at about 5.45am on Thursday morning, 9 March, after it became engulfed in smoke.
The family now face homelessness because the landlord served them with a week’s notice to quit the premises “due to anti-social behaviour,” when she called to the house later that morning.
Taking up the story, 25-year-old Leanne said: “Myself and the two children went to bed at about 11pm on Wednesday night. We had the fire on in the sitting room and had the fire guard up around it. Nigel fell asleep in the sitting room looking at telly. He was woken by the alarm going off at about 5.45am. There were flames coming up through the floorboards in front of the hearth of the fireplace and the room was full of smoke. He ran up the stairs and got me and the two children out the front door. The smoke was terrible. The two children were looked after by two of my sisters. We went back into the house when the fire brigade finished in it.
“It was lucky Nigel fell asleep in the sitting room. I kept thinking of the poor children and of the people who had died in the fire in Clondalkin when I was getting the kids out. I kept thinking that we could have been burnt to death, too. I just kept thinking how lucky we were to have gotten out,” said Ms Keogh.
“I woke up to the sound of the alarm going off. Only for it, I could have been overcome by the smoke and probably wouldn’t have woken up. It’s scary to think what could have happened to Leanne and the two kids,” said Mr Crean.
Senior assistant chief fire officer Shea Brennan said that the fire brigade, under the control of incident commander Johnny Ging, was at the scene of the blaze within six minutes of the call-out.
“Normally when we get such a call at that time of the morning about a house fire, we fear the worst. People are normally asleep in their beds and the fires are generally spotted by passers-by. Without doubt, but for the fire and carbon monoxide alarms going off, we were looking at a very different outcome. I would go so far as to say that the alarms averted potential fatalities,” said Mr Brennan.
He said that the fire appeared to have started around the fireplace.
The family is being housed by Laois County Council through a landlord under the Social Housing Leasing Scheme.
Ms Keogh said that she rang the landlord shortly after the fire was extinguished that morning. The landlord came to inspect the house and took photographs of the damage and other rooms around the house.
“Later that day, we got a registered letter from her telling us that she was giving us seven days’ notice to leave the house due to the anti-social behaviour when she called earlier that morning, said Ms Keogh.
“We did no such thing or anything wrong. When she called, we told her that we could have been killed because of the fire. She was going around taking photographs of all the rooms, which we didn’t mind, but we asked her to stop taking photographs of our children’s clothes and toys and of our private belongings. Nigel then asked her to leave,” said Leanne.
She said: “We’ve been here for seven months and never once had there ever been any complaints about us causing any type of trouble or anti-social activity. The guards called to the house on one occasion because we had lost the key to the front door and a passer-by saw Nigel climbing in through the front window. They thought the house was being broken into. We have never been in trouble in our lives with the guards, so where she got this anti-social activity from, we don’t know.”
Ms Keogh said that she went to Laois County Council with the notice-to-quit letter and was told that it had no accommodation for the family.
“When we first moved into the house on the Dublin Road, the council told us that it was an emergency accommodation and that they would have a house for us within a few weeks. When I went to the council last Thursday evening, they told me that they had absolutely nothing to offer us. They told us that all hostels, B&Bs and hotels are full … absolutely nothing! There’s nothing we can do. The county council said that they are not going to help us and we can’t afford other accommodation, so now we’re facing homelessness. We have nowhere to go,” said Ms Keogh.