Neighbours have paid tribute to a “lovely wee man” who died in a house fire in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Pensioner Joe Smith was asleep in his terraced house on Lenadoon Avenue in west Belfast when the blaze took hold. The emergency services were alerted by a neighbour at around 3am.
The fire was yesterday described as “a total inferno” by neighbours, who could do nothing but look on in shock as it engulfed the house.
Three police officers attempted to rescue the man, but were unable to enter the house because of the ferocity of the fire. All three officers — a woman and two men aged in their 20s — were treated in hospital for smoke inhalation.
Yesterday neighbours praised the 67-year-old who had lived in the area for more than 40 years. After losing the use of his right arm when a gang attacked Harry’s Bar in Castle Street with chainsaws 15 years ago, Mr Smith had become increasingly frail, neighbours said.
But describing him as “independent” they said he “never let anybody help him”.
A neighbour said he was well-liked by everybody.
“He never gave anybody any bother,” she said. “He was a lovely wee man. It’s just sad the way his life has ended.”
She added: “The smoke was so thick and fast that nobody could get in. There was nothing we could do.”
Forensic teams were at the scene yesterday. The Fire and Rescue Service said it could not comment on the cause of the fire while investigations are still ongoing.