Cat ‘saved village from gas explosion’

James O'Hara with Paddy McCourt, and right, the damage. Pictures: Toby Williams
James O'Hara with Paddy McCourt, and right, the damage. Pictures: Toby Williams
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A CAT is being hailed as an unwitting hero after alerting his owner to a fire which sparked fears of a gas explosion.

Police and fire crews raced to evacuate 30 houses in Winchburgh after a fire started by vandals threatened a gas pipe.

The area the fire was started in.  Picture: Toby Williams

The area the fire was started in. Picture: Toby Williams

And the alarm was only raised when resident James O’Hara let his cat – named Paddy McCourt after the former Celtic player – out of the house at 1.30am and spotted smoke.

He said: “Someone could have been killed. If the gas main had went up, it’s not just these houses, it’s all the houses.

“Letting the cat out saved the day.”

The flames leapt 12ft up the side of one property and damaged a mains gas pipe.

Farai Virimayi, whose binns were set alight resulting in the street being evacuated.  Picture: Toby Williams

Farai Virimayi, whose binns were set alight resulting in the street being evacuated. Picture: Toby Williams

And it emerged today that lives could have been threatened had one neighbour not been putting his pet cat out at the time.

James O’Hara, a caretaker in a nearby community centre, was letting Paddy McCourt – named after the former Celtic player – out when he spotted the flames and raised the alarm. He banged frantically on his neighbours’ window in Craigton Place at around 1.30am on Wednesday and shouted “Your house is on fire”, though it took several minutes to rouse residents.

Inside the house, 35-year-old Ottilia Mthimkhulu was the first to realise what was happening.

She woke her husband Farai Virimayi, 28, before they escaped along with her son Thapelo, ten, and 17-year-old relative Rose.

James O'Hara with cat Paddy McCourt. Picture: Toby Williams

James O'Hara with cat Paddy McCourt. Picture: Toby Williams

Mr Virimayi said: “It was very frightening. The flames were right up the side of the house. We got the children out as soon as we could. I feared for their lives.”

The heat was so intense it melted guttering, charred a fence and scorched brickwork at Mr Virimayi’s home. It even cracked a window on the opposite side of the lane.

Fire crews quickly extinguished the blaze while Mr O’Hara led 38 neighbours to the community centre, where they remained until they were allowed to return home at 6.30am.

The 58-year-old said: “I was putting Paddy McCourt out and I heard a crackling and popping – I didn’t know what it was.

“As I looked out I saw all this smoke and this orange glow.

“It wasn’t a fire you could put out with a bucket of water but the kind only a professional would be able to handle.

“Someone could have been killed. If the gas main had went up, it’s not just these houses, it’s all the houses.

“Letting the cat out saved the day.”

Police are now appealing for witnesses who might have seen anyone acting suspiciously in the area before the bins were set alight.

Detective Constable Adrian Wallis said the blaze could have had “devastating consequences”.

He said: “It also resulted in the evacuation of over 30 people, including young children and elderly residents.

“This caused much alarm and upset to those who had to leave their homes in the middle of the night.

“Anyone who saw anything suspicious at around 1am is asked to contact us immediately.”