Paddy hailed a hero in Winchburgh fire

James O'Hara from  Winchburgh, with cat Paddy McCourt
James O'Hara from Winchburgh, with cat Paddy McCourt
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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.

In last week’s paper we reported on a mass evacuation of 30 homes in Winchburgh after someone deliberately started a fire in a wheelie bin.

And the alarm was only raised when resident James O’Hara let his cat out of the house at 1.30am and spotted smoke.

He said: “Someone could have been killed. If the gas main had gone 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.

And it emerged that lives could have been threatened.

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 (10) and 17-year-old relative, Rose.

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.

“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 gone up, it’s not just these houses, it’s all the houses.