Monday 19 February 2018

'I'm going to die, Dad' - desperate phone call of Irish teen trapped by gorse fire

Calum McNeill with his dad Gordon from Ballymena
Calum McNeill with his dad Gordon from Ballymena

A father has spoken of the terrifying moment he thought his son had died during a desperate phone call to him as the teenager fought to escape a gorse fire.

Calum McNeill (19) - an apprentice car mechanic from Ballymena - was walking his dog along a cliff path in Cushendall after 7pm on Wednesday when he became trapped by the blaze.

Gorse fires rage through the area, near Cushendall
Gorse fires rage through the area, near Cushendall

Police believe it was the latest in a series of deliberately started gorse fires in Co Antrim.

"I was listening to my son on the phone telling me, 'I'm going to die dad.'

"It was the most horrific moment of my life," said Calum's father Gordon (47).

"I had my son on the phone in the middle of a live fire and screaming, 'Dad, I can't breathe, the flames are so close to me, I can't get away'.

"Then he said he had to hang the phone up and I was begging him not to, and then all of a sudden the phone went dead in the middle of it. I was in Ballymena at my sister's house. I nearly passed out because I thought my son was dead."

Gordon immediately drove 20 miles to Cushendall, where he was greeted by thick smoke and the blue flashing lights of fire engines.

Scorched ground on the cliffs close to homes
Scorched ground on the cliffs close to homes

"I got out of my car and my son just came over and threw his arms around me and there were tears in his eyes. I was so glad to see him," he said. "I was in a state of shock. There were fire officers everywhere, it was like a scene from a Hollywood film."

Calum managed to escape injury free, but was still in a state of shock last night.

"It's all I think about," he said. "I keep having visions of the flames and trying to get over this fence and all the smoke around everywhere, it was dramatic. My worst nightmare."

Calum was on a walk to the ruins of historical Layd Church with his dog Beau, a Japanese Shar Pei, when two separate fires trapped him.

"I saw all this smoke and a couple of flames. I went closer and thought I could get through, but then I saw the whole cliff face was on fire," he said.

"By the time I turned round I couldn't see from the smoke and there was a fire on the other side of me.

"I couldn't get past either side. There was a cliff on one side and an eight feet barbed wire fence into a field with cows on the other," he added.

As the flames came in closer, Calum was unable to scale the fence and rang his dad.

"I needed someone to talk to, to calm me down. I was getting pretty panicky at that stage. It sounds dramatic but I literally thought that was it. I was on the phone with my dad, trying to get over the fence with my dog and I could hardly breathe with all the smoke."

He had no choice but to throw Beau over the fence to safety.

"I didn't want anything happening to him, he's the family pet and very loved. By that stage I knew it was fight or flight. Luckily I caught the edge of the post on the fence and hauled myself up into the field with the cows."

After finally reaching safety, Calum said: "First thing I did when I saw my dad, I just hugged him."

Firefighters were also called to a separate gorse fire at 10.30pm that evening between Ballycastle and Cushendall.

"I want the people who did this prosecuted, they're going to kill somebody," said Mr McNeill.

"I'm angry that someone endangered my son, even if it was supposed to be high jinks."

Calum added: "It angers me someone thinks it's funny to put someone's life in such danger."

Belfast Telegraph

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