A COUPLE are facing an uncertain future after a fire ripped through their cherished cottage and destroyed most of their possessions.
Ron and Sheila O’Keefe, aged 69 and 70, managed to escape from the blaze which virtually gutted the 350-year-old home in Warren Lane, Woolpit, but the insurance on the building had lapsed just months ago and the couple now have to rebuild their lives.
In the charred shell of the place he has called home for 37 years, Mr O’Keefe spoke to the Bury Free Press about the dramatic escape from the fire.
The blaze started in an electrical socket in the lounge early last Thursday.
It is believed to have been caused by Christmas decoration lights gradually overheating after being left on for about 10 days.
Luckily, the couple woke up as thick smoke filled their bedroom.
Mr O’Keefe said: “My wife’s first words to me were ‘Ron, Ron it’s foggy’. I opened my eyes but couldn’t see her even though she was next to me. I stumbled downstairs and got to the lounge door.
“When I opened it, there was a bright light and I could see the flames on the curtains. The heat was overpowering and I had to step back. At that point I knew there was no escape through the outside doors.”
Back in their bedroom, they opened the windows, he jumped out and fetched a ladder for his wife to climb down.
He then re-entered the house to contact the emergency services.
The first fire engine arrived about five to 10 minutes later.
The pair were treated at hospital after breathing in smoke and Mr O’Keefe suffered minor cuts and bruises.
He said: “The fire crew estimated that if it had been another two minutes, we probably wouldn’t have been able to wake up due to the smoke. There was a working smoke alarm in the lounge but I didn’t hear it.
“I can’t give enough praise for the help we had from Mid Suffolk District Council, which secured the building.
“The firemen were fantastic.”
The couple are staying at their son Mark’s home in Gislingham
Mr O’Keefe is a retired carpenter and joiner and his wife is deputy manager for schools caretaking and cleaning for Suffolk County Council.
The cottage is full of memories and the pair would like to live there again – despite the damage, it is still structurally sound.
Mr O’Keefe said: “I’m uncertain as to what’s going to happen. I don’t know where we are going to live or how we’re going to start to rebuild our home or any home.
“I’m waiting to see from the council if we’re eligible for some accommodation of some sort so we’ve got a base to either repair or try to start putting this back together if that’s possible.
“What I need more than anything is to try to get a bit of local work so I can work at the house on an evening.
“If I could get some help also to make the building water tight.”
He added: “You can only go forward. If you start with nothing then it can only get better. It’s only possessions at the end of the day. We’ve got our family and grandchildren and something to live for.”