By JOHN ROBERTSON
EXPERTS have yet to pinpoint the cause of a night-time house fire in Brae at the weekend which killed an eight-month-old baby girl. Annalise Middleton died and her father Billy, 32, was badly affected by smoke in the blaze in their home at Burgadale shortly after 2.30 on Saturday morning.
Neighbours who alerted the emergency services had been unable to enter the house because the fire was too severe but they had smashed downstairs windows. Firefighters from Brae were on scene within seven minutes by which time only two people were left inside. The door was smashed open and Mr Middleton was rescued semi-conscious from his downstairs bedroom but baby Annalise could not be saved in time from her room upstairs.
The family’s six-year-old girl Christina and four-year-old boy James had managed to escape before the fire-fighters arrived, suffering the effects of smoke for which they were taken to hospital in Lerwick as a precaution. Their mother Kareen, 23, was not in the house during the fire and it is widely known that she and Mr Middleton had had a row that night.
The house in the so-called Toytown estate has remained sealed off all week while a forensics team of police and fire service experts from Inverness has sifted through the damage for clues to the cause of the fire while another team of police has conducted inquiries. The most badly damaged part of the house was the downstairs hallway.
A report on the findings will be submitted to the procurator fiscal in Lerwick. There has been no indication from the police at this stage to suggest the fire was anything other than accidental.
Shetland’s police chief inspector Malcolm Bell expressed sympathy for the family and their loss and said the police’s priority was to establish what caused the tragedy. “The cause of the fire is still being investigated. We owe it to the families and baby Annalise to ensure a thorough and complete inquiry is carried out. This does take time but it’s important for all involved that investigations are as detailed as possible. We’re in close contact with the families and keeping them fully informed of progress.”
Assistant district manager for the Shetland fire service, Mark Loynd, added his sympathies to the family and praised the Brae firefighters for having the fire extinguished within half an hour of being called out. He said they had made a tremendous effort and could not have done any better.
Mr Middleton had to be flown to hospital in Aberdeen for treatment but was expected to be well enough to return to the Gilbert Bain Hospital by the weekend. The rest of the family is understood to have been staying with Mr Middleton’s parents at their home in Lerwick since the tragedy.
They asked the media to leave them in peace but issued a brief statement through the police on Saturday which said: “We are shocked and devastated at the loss of our beautiful baby daughter Annalise. We find it too difficult at this time to put into words the loss we all feel.”
The weekend’s events shocked people all over Shetland, particularly those who know the family. They have strong Yell connections. Mrs Middleton’s mother, Caroline, is originally from the island and the couple married in Cullivoe two years ago, having lived there for a number of years, although both grew up in Lerwick. Mr Middleton still works in Cullivoe for mussel farmers C&A Thomason.
Yesterday the family said: “Billy, Kareen and family would like to thank the local community for their gifts, donations and continued support through this difficult time.”