Four families were left homeless today after a fireball caused by the smouldering embers of a barbecue engulfed their homes in Co Armagh.
Two of the houses were gutted and two others badly damaged in the accident.
The barbecue ashes had been dumped into a plastic bin which caught fire and ignited two nearby oil tanks.
The families and neighbours in Village Walk, Portadown, looked on in disbelief as flames swept through the properties.
One of the victims, Pamela Robinson, said they did not know anything was wrong until they smelt smoke.
“We went into the street to discover the smoke and flames coming out of the middle houses.
“The fire brigade did all they could to douse the flames, but two of the houses were destroyed,” she said.
“They restricted the damage in our house, but it looks as if it will have to be demolished.”
Geoffrey Abson was sleeping at the time when his house caught fire.
“All I could do was rush outside, and I tried to douse the flames with a garden hose – you do what you can in these circumstances.
“The fire service did a good job under the circumstances, and stopped the flames from spreading, but at least nobody was hurt or killed, and that’s the main thing,” he added.
A fire brigade spokesman said the blaze was almost certainly caused when one of the families put their barbecue coals in the bin yesterday afternoon.
Although they had left the barbecue smouldering overnight, the embers were still hot and the bin caught fire.
This spread to the adjacent domestic oil tanks which exploded in flames, catching hold of their home and the adjoining three houses.
Fire station officer Victor Spence said if the fire had started at night, there almost certainly would have been deaths.
Four teams using breathing apparatus searched the houses to see if anyone was trapped inside but everyone had escaped.
Mr Spence urged people to be careful when disposing of barbecues.
“Let them cool and possibly douse them in water before disposing of them.
“If it had have been the middle of the night, I dread to think of the consequences,” he added.