Family who lost everything in Co Armagh blaze 'overwhelmed' by support from community
A CO Down man has told of how his young family have been left "overwhelmed" by the generous support of their community after a fire completely destroyed their home and their belongings.
Stephen Bernes, whose three young daughters, ex-wife and her partner, escaped a blaze at their home in Poyntzpass in Co Armagh, said his family "can never repay" those who have helped them.
Iona Bernes, her children Kaylagh (10), Lauren (9) and Sophie (8) and her partner, John O'Hare were asleep at the property at Aughan Park at around 4.30am last Thursday when a fire broke out in the conservatory.
Mr O'Hare woke to find smoke in the house and immediately alerted the others.
While everyone managed to escape, the house was completely gutted leaving the family with just the clothes they were wearing.
However, in the aftermath of the fire - which was caused by an electrical fault - the communities of Poyntzpass, Banbridge and further afield have rallied to their aid.
St Mary's PS in Banbridge, where the girls attend school, was first to issue an appeal for donations to help the family.
A week after the fire their father Stephen Bernes said the family has been inundated with help and support, leaving them "overwhelmed" by people's generosity.
"It's been very emotional in both senses, losing everything and then the generosity of everyone," he said.
Mr Bernes said his ex-wife and children had received all kinds of donations including groceries, toiletries, clothing, furniture, beds and even washing machines and tumble dryers.
"Every single thing they had in there, was destroyed," he said.
"Sophie made her Communion a couple of weeks ago and her new watch was in the house.
"Their teddy bears and clothing...everything lost. It has just sank in, they are all over the place," he said.
However Mr Bernes said the support from people had been "unreal".
"There's (been) lots of cash donations," he said.
"They have got a lot of clothing donations and businesses as well have offered bits and pieces to help get them going.
"It's emotional knowing that there is that much help out there. Everyone has been so generous. When you have lost everything and you have to start from scratch, the community pulling together makes it so much easier.
"We can never thank them enough. You never expect so much from the general public."
A JustGiving fundraising page set up to help the family had last night raised over £2,500.
Donations can be made online at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/pamela-smolenski
Items can be donated by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org