Five die in fire as party ends in tragedy

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The Independent Online

Five members of the same family died early yesterday morning when their home caught fire at the end of a birthday party. Fire-fighters believe it began in the kitchen of the two-storey terraced house but was not detected by smoke alarms for another two hours.

The five victims, including two young children, were asleep upstairs in the home in Birnham Crescent, Perth, Tayside and failed to respond to the frantic attempts of relatives to wake them.

Lisa Wallace, who had been celebrating her 29th birthday, and her brother Sandy Wallace were the first in the house to be alerted to the fire. They were forced by the intensity of the heat into the front garden.

Neighbours described how Mr Wallace tried to get back into the building on the small residential estate but was beaten back by the heat and flames. Instead, he and his sister tried in vain to wake their family – Ms Wallace's partner, James Wilson, her eight-year-old son James and his cousin Aeron, 2, and the children's grandparents – by screaming and throwing stones at upstairs windows.

Fire-fighters wearing breathing apparatus arrived at the scene shortly before 3am. They were not able to gain access to the second storey with ladders as flames poured out of the upstairs windows. They had to fight their way up the staircase through the fire to bring the five bodies out.

Aided by a team of paramedics, the firefighters tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate the two children and three adults in front of the house. The survivors looked on, comforted by neighbours.

Danny O'Donnell, a division commander of Tayside Fire Brigade, said the fire appeared to be a "tragic accident".

He said: "It's not an unusual fire, but where five people die in a house that has smoke alarms that were working and alerted some members of the family to the fire it is somewhat unusual.

"The group of people were there because of a birthday party. It's a celebration that's turned into a tragedy in the space of a few hours."

Neighbours described how they were woken in the middle of the night by the sound of screams and "crashing glass". Several residents in their nightwear joined in the doomed rescue attempt in the short time before the emergency services arrived.

Kenneth Rae, a neighbour, said: "We were woken at about 2.45am by the sound of fire and crashing windows. Everyone is completely shocked by this because we are a very quiet street. There were certainly quite a few neighbours trying to help."

Sandy Rafferty, 65, who lives opposite the house, said: "Flames were coming right through the windows. I saw one fireman going up a ladder towards the top floor of the house, but he was beaten back by the flames. I saw the paramedics bringing out someone in a blanket. It looked like a wee kid and they were then rushed away in an ambulance."

* A bedroom was engulfed in flames after a glass ornament on a window sill focused the sunlight into a beam and ignited a CD cover at a home in Clifton, York yesterday. One man was treated for the effects of breathing in smoke following the blaze at around 9.30am.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service warned homeowners of the dangers of leaving glass objects in the sun during hot weather.