A WEST Belfast pensioner who was rescued from a house fire after the battery of his motorised scooter exploded, said he has the best neighbours in the world.
Johnny McKee (75) was watching television in bed at his Glenbawn Crescent home in Poleglas at approximately 8am on Saturday morning when he heard a noise from the hallway.
“I was watching TV in bed when I heard a loud noise that sounded like a hoover so I turned the sound down. All of a sudden I saw the smoke billowing in from the hallway from the electric scooter which came in the bedroom door.
"Then there was a large bang when the battery exploded which put the windows out. I couldn’t get out the door because of the smoke and the flames," he said.
“My neighbours heard the noise, they all rushed out, they got in and turned the gas and everything off and got me out through the window – they were magic. I managed to get my boots on before I was helped out the window. The heat had already melted and warped all the plastic on the window. I was lucky."
Despite the damage caused by the fire which emanated from the faulty battery on his mobility scooter, the insurance company have informed Johnny that they aren’t liable for it exploding. “Yesterday they said to me they won’t cover it, they said they only cover ‘accidents’ so I’m trying to get onto the manufacturer at the moment to speak with them.”
Neighbour Ruairi McIlroy described the moment Johnny was rescued from the wire, with the flames quickly engulfing the house, leaving the remaining structure unstable.
“I woke up and saw Johnny’s house was on fire. By the time we got outside the others already had the window put in and Johnny outside. Someone got the gas off, smoke was billowing out of the house, the flames were coming out of the hallway and in that short amount of time the whole house was gone.
“It was lucky in that it was winter and there were no leaves on the trees otherwise the fire would have spread. The fire service arrived just in time to get the fire put out.
"They said Johnny’s house was already gone and all they could do was prevent it from travelling to the other houses. Johnny’s wall is cracked and the joists are away on it. I’ve been checking the wall every night and the wall will have to come down.
“It’s a very quiet street, we are a young couple and some of our neighbours are a bit older so we all keep a wee eye out for each other,” he said.
Johnny lost all of his possessions in the fire, escaping the house with only the clothes on his back and the boots on his feet. The only thing which remained behind from the fire was an old trophy and a small kettle which he stored loose change in containing 10p and 20p coins.
“There’s nothing left. Everything is gone," he said. "I just had the pair of boots and the clothes on my back. One of my neighbours gave me a coat when I first got out to keep me warm. I lost my passport which was a big loss as I’ve a holiday booked for January but one of my kids has managed to organise me getting a new one so it should be okay.”
Luckily Johnny said he has already been allocated new housing for a place on the ground floor level which he will be able to move into after the New Year.
The Fire Service informed him that the damage sustained to his house is irreparable and the home will have to be completely torn down. The fire also caused damage to Johnny's next door neighbour's home who is now living in a hotel as the blaze caused part of her ceiling to collapse.
Despite the trauma of losing his home and all of his possessions Johnny said he has been overwhelmed by the support from the local community and also from the support generated from a GoFundMe page which was set up by his daughter Charlene.
The page, which has a £10,000 goal already has raised £5,000 to date. As well as Johnny’s neighbours and those who have donated to the GoFundMe other groups who know Johnny well have been supporting him.
The ’50 to 50 Walk and Talk Group’ which Johnny takes part in are hosting a ‘Fundraising Christmas Walk for Our Johnny’ this Saturday from The Hunting Lodge. The walk will leave the bar at 9.30am for a 5k walk with free tea, coffee and bacon baps for all who attend.
Speaking about the money which has been raised and the events which have been planned for him Johnny said: “It’s been fantastic, they are such great people. Another group called ‘The Good Guys’ and a group I walk with every evening and weekend, the ‘50 to 50 Walk and Talk Group’, have been very supportive. Everyone has come out to help me.
“The support I’ve gotten and I'm being given is unbelievable. This community have been fantastic, my neighbours have been fantastic, they’re the best neighbours in the world.
“When I went to get a new electric scooter yesterday – they cost £2,800 – the man who I’ve been getting them off said for me to pick one and pay him back whenever I’m ready. He wouldn’t take any money off me. People have been very good to me.”
Despite the devastation of losing his home, Johnny was still able to look on the light side of what happened. When he reported the blaze to the Housing Executive they sent him an automatic reply saying someone would be out to repair his ‘electrical fault’.
“The Housing Executive for some reason thought it was a small kitchen fire,” he said.
“When the spark arrived here and went to enter the house his jaw nearly hit the floor. You should’ve seen the expression on his face when he pulled up and saw it. He thought he was just out to repair a fuse. I said to him, there’s nothing left to repair!”
To donate to Johnny’s GoFundMe page visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/nvp3j5-fathers-house-burnt-down