Fire enginesLibrary photo © Rex Shutterstock

An elderly farmer is missing and feared dead after fire gutted his farmhouse in County Down, Northern Ireland.

Emergency services were called to the farm in Ballynafern Road, Annaclone near Rathfriland, shortly before 7.20am on Saturday (3 January).

Three fire engines attended the scene after a neighbour raised the alarm. Firefighters spent several hours using water cannons to bring the flames under control.

Fire crews remained at the scene on Monday (5 January) as the search for the 82-year-old George Mathers continued.

See also: Scottish fire spate costs farms £600,000 in three weeks

It is understood that Mr Mathers had mobility issues, used a wheelchair, and lived on his own.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said the building was unstable and the first floor had partially collapsed.

A fire service spokesman said: “Firefighting and search operations are still under way and fire appliances will need to remain at the scene for several hours.”

John McAllister, an Independent Unionist Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who lives a few doors away from Mr Mathers, said he had known the family all his life.

Mr McAllister told the Banbridge Leader that Mr Mathers was a “hard-working farmer”, who had been “in declining health for the past few years”.

A spokesman for Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the house remained cordoned off on Monday and police were ensuring the scene was safe before search teams could be sent in the house.

PSNI inspector Philip McCullough said: “Police were expediting this matter as quickly and safely as possible and are keeping all relevant parties fully appraised of developments and our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”