Mary Dwane at the front gate of her home in O'Moore Place, damaged after a fire gutted the empty house beside her.
Five adults and four children have been evacuated from a row of houses in O'Moore Place, Portlaoise, after a suspected arson attack destroyed a house last Friday afternoon.
The row of five terrace homes was evacuated as fire crews from Portlaoise and Mountmellick battled the blaze at number 43 to stop it spreading to adjoining houses, with Gardaí also attending the scene.
Residents have been put up in emergency accommodation, among them a young pregnant woman with four children.
Pensioner Mary Dwane lives next door to the burnt out house and she told the Leinster Express she is “devastated”.
“I’ve lived there 52 years, I’m 71 years of age. I had to walk out and close the door behind me, after rearing seven children and four grandchildren in it,” she said.
Mrs Dwane had just returned home on Friday March 9, to wrap a gift for her new great grandchild when at 3.30pm her grandchildren alerted her.
“They ran in and said ‘Granny come out quick the house next door is on fire’. That was it, I had to walk out and bang the door after me.
“Everything is destroyed. Mine is a no-go area. The ceilings, furniture, beds, the whole lot is destroyed,” Mrs Dwane said.
The burnt out council house had been empty since October, following a violent incident understood to be connected to a drug feud.
“The anti-social behaviour was unreal down there,” said Mrs Dwane, who is calling for a higher Garda presence in the area.
“I am very upset, to have to stay out in a hotel, and be in it Mother’s Day. They want me to stay there but I’m not going back out,” she said, speaking from her granddaughters house in the estate.
“We are homeless since Friday evening,” said her daughter Fiona, whose house is beside her mothers. Both are the only privately owned houses in the block of five.
“We both had to be evacuated, for safety even for carbon fumes. We don’t know what the structural damage is yet. In fairness they are working there on it all morning,” she said.
Fiona thanked her sister, Sinn Féin Cllr Caroline Dwane, and brother in law Deputy Brian Stanley, for their help.
“They were very good, on the ground here that day. They did what they could as regards emergency accommodation, but basically it all boils down to policing, and the council. Both institutions need to be working together.
“They are the foundation of all this area. It has to be met head on. they are doing their jobs but it’s not tackling the problem,” she said.
“ The anti social behaviour is coming from youngsters not even from this area. They just spill over, the police need to be moving them on,” Fiona Dwane said.
Her mother said she has nothing left only the clothes she is wearing.
“All my things are destroyed, my furniture, my wardrobes, my clothes, my carpet,” she said.
The fire crews had to break her roof and pump in water to prevent the fire spreading.
“You could swim in the back room. It’s all destroyed. I’m at the loss of all that. It’s a no go area. It’s not their fault, they stopped it. Had it been five minutes later, or they didn’t have the arm to go up to the roof, the whole lot was gone,” she said.
“If it had been night time, we were dead,” Mary Dwane said.
She does not expect to be able to return home for at least six months, until repairs are finished.
Laois Gardaí confirmed “extensive damage” and are investigating.