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Family from Fortrose in the Highlands say they were saved from fire thanks to alarm supplied by audiology department at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness

By Louise Glen

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Lois and Penelope MacDonell with Vivienne and Mark DeJesus.
Lois and Penelope MacDonell with Vivienne and Mark DeJesus.

A family has paid heartfelt tribute to the community in Fortrose which immediately rallied round in their darkest hour.

Penny MacDonell (44) along with her mum, Lois, who is in her 70s, and her two children Vivienne (6) and Mark (4) were alerted to a fire at Lois's home on Castle Street in Fortrose thanks to some recently installed fire alarm equipment.

Penny and Lois were "up later than usual" when the alarm was raised at 10.45pm on Friday night, when it is believed a gas boiler went on fire in one of the home's bedrooms quickly taking hold and devastating the roof and first floor of the house.

Penny said: "I was on an evening meeting otherwise I might have gone to bed earlier.

"We were pottering around and watching telly getting ready for bed, when this high-pitched alarm sound came on. We didn't really know what it was."

Penny explained that just a few months ago Lois had been offered fire alarms as part of an initiative by charity Hearing Link through the audiology department at Raigmore Hospital, due to a hearing impairment.

"All I can say is that this was amazing and probably helped to save our lives," Penny continued.

After hearing the alarm Penny and her mum went up to the mezzanine floor of the house and opened a bedroom door only to discover that the cupboard that housed the gas boiler was on fire.

"At that point, we just did not panic and we went to get the children who were sleeping out of their beds. They were reluctant to get up – and it took a bit of persuasion. But we finally got them outside and realised that they did not have their wellies on and were standing in the cold as we waited for the fire service.

"So my mum, who was calm the whole time, went and moved her car out of the driveway and we got the children into the vehicle to try and keep them warm."

It was then that Penny and Lois noticed that the wind was blowing the fire close to a neighbour's house.

Penny said: "So I ran to their door and I was pummelling on it to wake them up. We then went to the other neighbour's house and told them. We asked if we could come in for half an hour. They welcomed us in, in spite of Covid, and made us very welcome."

The fire service from Fortrose then arrived and took over. The retained firefighters long with colleagues from nearby stations and Inverness tackled the blaze until 5am the following morning.

Penny continued: "It is quite incredible to think of all the people who have helped us. The community has really pulled together – at one point we thought that we had lost everything. Twenty people even came and helped to salvage what we could from the house, after the fire service had extinguished the fire. It was quite something. And people have been so kind with clothes and toys and food and everything. I can not imagine how we will ever be able to thank everyone, but we are so grateful. Especially to Ivy who came to the house to have the fire alarms fitted. If it was not for the fire alarms, I don't know where we would be now."

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