Firemen and police forensic experts will today continue to comb the ruins of a house destroyed in a suspected arson attack in Fermanagh, which has left a mother and two teenage daughters dead and a baby missing.
The fire at the detached house in Derrylin, 15km south of Enniskillen, began with an explosion shortly after 7am. Flames engulfed the building rapidly even in the minutes it took for emergency services to get to the scene.
A 27-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder following the fire at the house on Molly Road, and neighbours said one local farmer was blocked from entering the engulfed house when he tried to rescue occupants.
The dead mother and children are English, but they arrived to live in Fermanagh about 18 months ago having lived for a time in Co Kerry, said the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Arlene Foster, who represents the area as an MLA.
Saying that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) believed the fire was started deliberately, Det Supt Jason Murphy said: "We are continuing to thoroughly examine the scene along with our [fire] colleagues."
Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said: "Such an unimaginable scene that happened here this morning, it is just shocking. We are thinking about the family and thinking about the community here in Derrylin. They will be rallying around. All concerned will try to do what they can to help. I can't begin to think about the terror and horror in that house this morning as the fire raged through it.
“They are a brilliant community here. This will be remembered as one of the most horrific days that the village of Derrylin has seen,” said the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP.
Shocked neighbours were still trying to come to terms with the tragedy: “I looked out the back of the bedroom window and we saw a fire. I assumed it was from a house, then I thought it was from an outbuilding and then, of course, we heard ambulances and fire brigade,” said one.
The Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service said firefighters equipped with two fire-tenders from Lisnakea and another from Enniskillen had to deal with "a well-developed fire" by the time they got to the scene.
Members of the PSNI placed a patrol car across the long driveway and fire vehicles were travelling between the property and Derrylin to refill with water from a stand pipe on the Enniskillen road.
Fermanagh and Omagh District Comm Supt Jane Humphries said a full examination of the ruins was quickly begun, but the bodies had not been removed by late last night as forensic experts continued to work at the scene.
“A 27-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder. He was detained at the scene and transferred to hospital for treatment prior to his arrest,” she told reporters during a press conference.