Mother died in fire hours after daughter's good night message

Published: 18 Oct 2012 13:000 comments

It was only a few short hours after Catherine Williamson's daughter had wished her good night that she got a Facebook message to say her mother's Windmill Heights home was on fire.

Catherine Williamson.

Minutes later she was to come to terms with the news that Catherine had died as a result of the fire which started and remained smouldering in the first floor bedroom last Friday night.

Catherine went to bed at 8pm, calling her daughter Catriona to say she would see her the next day. But by 10pm, the fire in the back bedroom Catherine used had been spotted and the emergency services were on the scene. The emergency response from the police, ambulance and fire service was extremely fast and two firefighters brought Catherine from the house. She was conveyed by ambulance to the South West Acute Hospital where she died. The family believes that she died from smoke inhalation.

Her sister Diane, who arrived on the scene of the fire just as Catherine had been carried into the ambulance, described her this week as a loving mother, grandmother, sister and daughter.

Describing the events of Friday night, she said: "Catriona talked to her on the phone on Friday night and said she was going to bed and that she would see her on Saturday. It was a neighbour who lives in Catherine's row who sent a message on Facebook to Catriona as she did not have her phone number to go down as there was a fire in Catherine's. Catriona phoned my sister to go down to mind her little girl and my sister ran down to bring the wee girl to her house and Catriona went down. My next door neighbour's sister lives in the bottom on the park. She heard it and phoned up and told me to make my way down as well. When I got down she was in the ambulance and being taken off," said Diane.

Two smoke alarms had been repaired in the house only last week.

"She had just redecorated her whole house -- new carpet and floors. My father had painted it for her and gave her a wee hand. She had only got it done two months ago and she did not even get to enjoy the comfort of it. The smoke alarms were working. She had everything in order," said Diane.

Jim McClintock, of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS), was the Officer in Charge on Friday evening. Fire officers received the call at 9.55pm on Friday night. "A young man the area had raised the alarm, having seen smoke coming out of the first floor of the end-of-terrace two storey house which is located in a quiet cul de sac in Windmill Heights. It is very quiet with no passers-by or traffic," he said.

When the NIFRS arrived, the PSNI and Ambulance Service were already there. Both the police and ambulance staff had tried to gain access but were unable to due to the heavy smoke. "There was no big fire. It wasn't of that nature. It was a smouldering fire," he said.

Two firefighters with breathing apparatus entered the house. "Very quickly they recovered the female from the rear bedroom on the first floor. She was brought straight away to hospital by ambulance with a police escort. Her condition was not good," said Mr. McClintock. Little more than half an hour later, the news came through that Catherine had died.

Forensic investigations took place at the scene.

"The lady was exposed to smoke and inhaled it in over that period of time," he added.

Catherine was 42, and was mother to 23-year-old Catriona and grandmother to seven year old Lakisha, who attends Holy Trinity Primary School.

She was the eldest sister to her three siblings -- Diane Williamson, Winnie Williamson and Anthony Williamson and daughter of Gabriel and Kathleen Williamson. She is also survived by her nephew and nieces Kevin, Naomi, Kyra and Lashana.

The family is very well known in the Windmill Heights area. "The neighbours have been very good and a great support," said Diane.

"She will be very much missed. She was quiet and kept to herself. She would have done anything she could for the family and helped out in any way. My mum doesn't be well and has a bad chest and she was always there for her to help," Diane said. "She was very much a loving grandmother and mother and sister. She would have had a great deal of time for my brother and was very good to him. She was good to us all in her own way," she added.

The shock of her sister's unexpected death has meant it is taking time for the news to sink in. "We haven't had much time to grieve until it is all over," said Diane.

A former pupil of St. Fanchea's College, Catherine had worked for Elite Electronics and had also worked in the kitchen at the Ashberry Hotel and at Barnabas Trust. "She would have helped out with her wee grandchild and took her to the park and took her wee places".

The funeral mass was celebrated on Monday at St. Michael's Church by Father Donnelly. Her granddaughter Lakisha, her niece and goddaughter Lashana and niece brought gifts to the altar. Burial took place at Cross Cemetery.

A former fellow St. Fanchea's pupil, Councillor Bernice Swift said: "I was deeply shocked to hear about the very tragic death of Catherine and I express my sincere condolences to her sister Winnie and all the extended family. Actually knowing and remembering Catherine from our school days as a very quiet individual makes her death all the more saddening. May she rest in peace."

Funeral arrangements were looked after by John McKeegan, Mill Street, Enniskillen.

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