HeadLine: I could hear the weans crying but heat beat me back ..
Daily Record, 31/10/1997, p4
by Grace McLean and Shaun Milne
A hero postie told last night how he fought in vain to save a mum and her three young children from their burning home.
John Farrell tried to reach Michelle Wilson, 22, and crying tots Jackie, three, Katie, two, and eight-month-old Brian.
But he and the kids’ father, David, 23, were driven back by heat and smoke.
The four bodies were found later, huddled together in a bedroom.
John, 38, had just delivered mail to the Wilsons’ maisonette home in Cranhill, Glasgow, yesterday morning when the blaze erupted.
He told the Record: “It was absolutely terrible. I’ll never forget it.
“I had just put some mail through their door. Next thing I knew, the windows were blown out.
“David Wilson was hanging out of a window, shouting for help.
“I could hear the weans crying. And their poor mother was screaming, screaming for help.
“I kicked the door in and tried to run upstairs to where I could hear them.
“But there were too many flames.
“I couldn’t see anything and the heat was beating me back.
“I tried, I really tried. I just couldn’t get to them.
“David smashed the window and climbed out. He was hanging on the ledge with his legs over the side.
“He was bleeding everywhere and only had his boxer shorts on because he was just out of bed.
“I managed to pull him on to the veranda. Before that, I told him to throw the weans to me and I’d catch them but he said he couldn’t reach them.
“The kids were still crying and their mum was screaming at the top of her voice. She was desperate but there was nothing we could do.
“Then, all of a sudden, it went quiet.
“I’ve never wished to hear noise more than I did then. The silence was awful.
“David was just out of it – devastated. He didn’t know what was going on.
“We tried to get back in but couldn’t. Then the fire brigade came and took him to an ambulance.”
The fire broke out at Bellrock Court, Cranhill, at 7.30am.
One neighbour said: “It was horrific. Michelle was screaming for help, then the place was engulfed.”
Eyewitness Gary Collins, 27, said: “I looked out the window and there was smoke everywhere, like thick fog.
“Flames were leaping out the front and the back of the building.
“The family didn’t stand a chance.”
Police said: “It was a ferocious blaze which was well alight by the time we and the fire brigade arrived.
“It’s a terrible tragedy, a young family wiped out in minutes.”
Michelle’s best friend, Donna Logue, 22, sobbed: “I can’t believe she’s gone.
“She used to visit me twice a week. Her children played with my little boy.”
Michelle and David lost a baby son, also David, to cot death last year.
Donna added: “Michelle put the baby in a pram and walked to her mum’s. By the time she got there, he was dead.
“I’ve known Michelle since I was 12. I’ll be lost without her as a friend.”
David’s mum, Roseanna Wilson, was at his bedside at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
A friend said: “The family are all shattered, just waiting on news.”
The Wilsons’ upstairs neighbours, Alex Cassidy, 21, mum Isabel, 47, and brothers David, 18, and Christopher, 10, ran through choking smoke to escape the fire.
Alex said: “I thought we were going to die.
“We were gagging on the smoke and could hear glass shattering and the children screaming.
“When I went to the front door, I found David sitting on the pavement crying.
“He couldn’t get in to save them. He tried so hard but it was too late.”
As firemen cleared away broken glass and debris at the scene, grieving neighbours handed a simple bouquet of flowers to a policeman.
He laid them respectfully at the foot of the stairwell.
Soon after, onlookers bowed their heads as four pine coffins were carried out and put in the back of a van.
Strathclyde Firemaster John Jameson said: “We are still investigating but the fire is believed to have started on the ground floor of the two-storey maisonette.
“We are still trying to establish whether the family had a smoke alarm.”
Mr Jameson said Michelle, David and baby Brian were asleep in a front bedroom when the fire broke out.
Michelle ran into a rear bedroom to try to get the two girls. David escaped by jumping from the bathroom window.
Senior Divisional Fire Officer Alistair McIntyre said it took only seven minutes for firefighters to respond to a 999 call.
But flames and thick smoke were belching out of the house by the time crews from Parkhead and Easterhouse reached the scene.
Firemen fought their way into the lower half of the maisonette, then found the bodies upstairs minutes later.
Mr McIntyre said the fire appeared to have started in either the downstairs living room or kitchen and had probably been smouldering for hours before it flared up.
He added: “This has been a very poignant warning that fires are fatal.
“It reinforces the message that people should always be aware of the dangers.
“Glasgow council has a policy of fitting smoke alarms, and we are still trying to locate where in the house it may be.
“It is not unusual for smoke detectors to fall from the ceiling when you are dealing with such very high temperatures.”
A council spokesman said: “Glasgow City Council is deeply distressed by today’s tragedy in Cranhill.
“Our staff are involved in a full investigation into the cause of the fire.”
Stunned residents yesterday slammed their straw homes as death traps.
Isabel Cassidy, who escaped from the flat above the blaze home, said: “These houses are like tinder boxes.”
And the local residents association have been asking the council for years to improve fire safety.
President Rosemary McKay, 40, said: “The walls in these houses are made of compressed straw.
“There was a sickly, sweet smell in the air caused by the walls burning like matchsticks.
“These flats can go up in minutes and nobody can escape.”
Vice-president Helen McGuinness, 34, wants all the flats pulled down. She said: “They are lethal.”
Forensic experts took samples of the straw insulation away for tests yesterday.
But firefighters insisted the straw wasn’t a major factor in the blaze.
Senior Divisional Officer Alistair McIntyre said: “The the fire itself was the problem, not the insulation.”
Glasgow City Council refused to comment on complaints about the flats or the straw insulation.