Tuesday 20 March 2018

Grandfather just steps from saving family in fatal fire

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A GRANDFATHER almost made it all the way up the stairs of his home as he tried to rescue his trapped daughter and grandson -- but fire and smoke forced him back.

Joe O'Dwyer climbed 10 of the 13 steps before he was blown back down.

A €10 candle placed on the sitting room floor near curtains started the tragic blaze which claimed the lives of Helena O'Dwyer (25) and her nephew Ryan O'Dwyer Hayes (5), a Cork coroner's inquest heard yesterday.

The fire, which was initially investigated by gardai as suspected arson, gutted the four-bedroom Mahon house on Easter Sunday last year.


Temperatures reached 500 degrees, blasting plaster off the walls.

Helena and Ryan both died from smoke inhalation after being trapped in the blazing terraced house at 5 Nutley Avenue in Mahon.

Six other family members, including three children, escaped the blaze, which began shortly after 2.30am on April 24, 2011.

Mr O'Dwyer said he desperately tried to save his family. "I got up about 10 steps and the smoke blew me back downstairs. I fell down the stairs -- I hopped my head off the wall," he said.

Mr O'Dwyer said he could then hear Helena screaming.

Smoke, heat and flames prevented neighbours and gardai from gaining access to the house. Neighbour Joe Moynihan slashed his hands trying to smash open a rear window.

Mr O'Dwyer had gone to bed at 10.30pm that evening, with his wife and daughter the last to go to bed after smoking, chatting and drinking beer.

There were four adults in the house at the time -- Mr O'Dwyer (56), his wife Helena Snr (50) and daughters Helena (25) and Dawn (23) -- as well as four children, Ryan (5), Katelyn (2), Courtney (5) and William (4).

Courtney was Helena's only child while Katelyn and William were the children of Helena's sister Dawn. Ryan was the son of another sister Josephine.

Gardai said they were satisfied the fire was started accidentally by a tinned candle which was placed on the floor near a couch and curtains.

Detectives rejected local rumours that a firebomb had been thrown through the sitting room window.

State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy said both Helena and Ryan had died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.

A factor in Helena's death was acute intoxication as she was almost three times over the drink driving limit.

Irish Independent

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