Cottage blaze couple ‘two minutes from death’

A COUPLE whose Suffolk home was gutted by a ferocious fire were told they were two minutes from death.

Ron and Sheila O’Keefe, were asleep upstairs in their cottage in Warren Lane, Woolpit, when a fire broke out in the living room around 3.45am on Thursday.

Choking black smoke had filled the couple’s bedroom when Mrs O’Keefe, 70, gradually woke and alerted her husband.

Mr O’Keefe, 69, ventured downstairs to find the source of the fumes but was forced back by the heat of the blaze, which had taken hold in their living room.

“When I opened the door, the bright light from the flames was so tremendous it took me back,” he said. “Right then, I knew we were in serious trouble.

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“That was when I started to panic.”

Realising the front and back doors were blocked by the fire, Mr O’Keefe rushed upstairs and climbed out of a bedroom window.

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Clinging on to some garden trellis , Mr O’Keefe managed to escape the building to fetch a ladder, which he stood against the window for his wife to climb down.

The shocked couple then watched in dismay for several minutes as their home for the past 35 years burned before them.

“I just held her hand,” Mr O’Keefe said. “We must have looked quite pathetic, watching the cottage burn.”

As both the couple’s mobile phones were inside the cottage, Mr O’Keefe broke into the study on the ground floor of their home to reach a telephone and call for help.

Having reached the emergency services, Mr O’Keefe then tried to fight the flames with a garden hose but was soon beaten back by the smoke.

Around 30 fire fighters from Ixworth, Elmswell and Bury St Edmunds were called to tackle the fire, which had ripped into the roof.

Now staying with their son, Mark O’Keefe, 47, in Gislingham, Mr and Mrs O’Keefe say they feel lucky to be alive.

“One of the firemen said ‘two minutes more and you would both have been asleep and that would have been that’,” Mr O’Keefe said. “We have lost our possessions but we have still got our memories and each other.”

The couple have three sons, Mark, 47, Paul, 45 and Alan, 43, as well as eight grandchildren.

Having bought the property when it was almost derelict in 1975, they worked for many years to make the cottage a home.

But in a cruel twist of fate, the pair had allowed their insurance to lapse in October, having paid it for years, which means they have no cover for the damage.

The couple believe Christmas lights which had been left alight in the cottage window for several days may have sparked the fire.

The pair will now seek rented accommodation as they are not hopeful the building can be salvaged.

“We had spent our lives working on that cottage,” Mrs O’Keefe said. “We had some marvellous times there.

“It is such a shame because it is a lovely old house with so many memories.”

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