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Belfast residents fear whole street could go up when massive bonfire is ignited

By Suzanne Breen

Residents in an east Belfast street are terrified that their homes will go up in flames when a massive bonfire built just yards away is lit.

Some families in Chobham Street, off Ravenscroft Avenue, have already moved out and those who remain say they are "petrified" for their own safety and that of their homes.

They said the Fire Service had warned that houses in the street were in danger of catching alight on the eleventh night.

There are already 1,700 pallets on the bonfire which has a core of tyres down the middle, and hundreds more pallets remain to be added, which will make it even bigger.

The bonfire is located on waste ground at the Comber Greenway, just 30 feet from houses in Chobham Street.

Homeowners said that the land was owned by the Department for Regional Development (DRD), but that the department had ignored their pleas to take action to protect their properties.

The residents, who were too frightened to be named, said that endless meetings with the DRD, Belfast City Council and the Fire Service had got them nowhere.

One homeowner said: "Nobody is willing to take action. Rather than act now to prevent disaster, their attitude seems to be that they'll just mop up the mess after the eleventh night."

Insurance companies have told some homeowners that, because of the presence of combustible material so nearby, they won't accept liability if the properties are destroyed or damaged by fire.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has been told by some homeowners that his department will be held legally liable if their properties catch fire.

In previous years the bonfire was substantially smaller and caused no problem for residents. But this year it is outside the bonfire management scheme. Its builders are said to have adopted the hardline position of 'culture before cash'.

Sources said that officials didn't want to intervene to reduce the size of the bonfire because they feared that would lead to a riot.

SDLP councillor Declan Boyle said: "It is a scandalous situation when nobody in authority is prepared to do anything to protect these people and their homes.

"They have been sent from pillar to post and everybody says nice things to them but nobody is willing to help.

"There is no problem with a bonfire in the area, there is a problem with building so big a bonfire in such a confined space. It's a recipe for disaster and it's disgraceful that no one will give the order to remove some of the bonfire material."

The pyre is also situated just yards from Walkway Community Centre.

Mr Boyle claimed that the women workers in the centre had to pay out of their own pockets for it to be boarded up to protect the premises from the blaze.

"The buck stops with the DRD," he said. "They have a duty of care to ensure that no person or property comes to any harm. I would ask Danny Kennedy if he'd feel safe living so near a bonfire? Would he be happy if his home was in danger of going up in flames and nobody was prepared to intervene to stop it?"

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