A TERRIFYING caravan fire that left two families homeless is believed to have been started deliberately.
Gardaí are treating the blaze that engulfed two caravans in Portlaoise as a probable arson attack and are appealing for witnesses to contact them.
The flames destroyed both caravans at the unofficial halting site in Harpur’s Lane, which was home to five children and their parents. Fortunately, the trailers were not occupied at the time but the blaze destroyed all their belongings, including children’s toys, clothes, irreplaceable family photographs and sentimental items.
The children’s grandmother Margaret McDonagh said the families are traumatised following the blaze, but they know they are lucky to be alive.
Fire units were alerted at 10.15pm last Tuesday night and a fire appliance and water tender from Portlaoise Fire Service rushed to the site, which is located in the yard of a derelict cottage.
According to Laois chief fire officer Declan Power, both caravans were “well ablaze” by the time fire-fighters arrived at the scene. They extinguished the flames quickly and remained until 11.40pm, when the area was declared safe.
Mounds of ashes were all that remained of the caravans that housed nine people from two families. A horse that was stabled beside the mobile homes was rescued.
The caravans were home to Bernard and David McDonagh, who lived at the site with their partners and five children. Luckily, one of the families with three infants had just left their trailer, while the other two children were staying elsewhere on Tuesday night.
Gardaí assisted at the scene off the Mountmellick Road and immediately launched an investigation into the suspicious blaze. While enquiries are ongoing, gardaí are operating on the basis that the fire appears to have been started maliciously. Meanwhile, the McDonagh families are being assisted by Laois County Council in finding an alternative place to live.
The incident was a stark reminder of the devastating blaze that claimed the lives of five children and five adults from two Traveller families in Carrickmines, Co Dublin in October 2015.
Portlaoise gardaí are investigating the Harpur’s Lane fire and are appealing for witnesses to contact them on 057 8674100.