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Checks on all tower blocks in Northern Ireland in wake of London horror blaze

By Victoria Leonard

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) is carrying out a health and safety inspection of all of its 32 tower blocks in a bid to reassure local residents in the wake of the Grenfell Tower blaze.

The inferno, which UUP Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Sonia Copeland said reminded her of the Twin Towers terror attack in New York, had last night claimed 12 lives. During the horror, a baby was thrown from the ninth or 10th floor of the 24-storey tower block into the arms of an onlooker.

Some 74 people were rushed to hospital and 20 remain in a critical condition.

The cause of the Grenfell Tower blaze, which was tackled by 40 fire engines and around 200 firefighters, is not yet known.

Within hours of the catastrophe, an NIHE spokesman said the organisation wanted to "reassure our tenants that their safety is taken extremely seriously across the Housing Executive".

She stated: "Our thoughts are with the victims, their families and all those affected by the fire in Grenfell, London. We have robust fire safety regimes and carry out regular inspections in all of our 32 tower blocks.

"In light of the fire in Grenfell, we undertook health and safety inspections of each block. We are currently refurbishing three tower blocks in Belfast and completed one last year.

"Cuchulainn House in the New Lodge area of north Belfast was recently refurbished. Eithne House in the same area is currently being refurbished, as are Carnet House and Whincroft House, both in east Belfast."

The spokesman continued: "We want to reassure tenants that any cladding systems which have been installed or are being installed are required to comply with the relevant fire safety regulations. All blocks have current fire risk assessments in place and these have all been recently reviewed. Each tower has its own evacuation plan and we carry out regular testing of fire safety systems."

The NIHE spokesman said that all its tower blocks have single protected fire-resistant staircases with fire doors. She added that they would "take on board" any findings which emerged from the investigation into the cause of the Grenfell fire.

Meanwhile, a UUP councillor has called for a "proactive, not reactive approach" to fire safety in high-rise flats.

Deputy Lord Mayor Sonia Copeland said she has been contacted by a number of concerned residents of Belfast tower blocks seeking reassurances that everything was being done to prevent a similar tragedy occurring here.

"People here are aghast at what happened in London," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I was so shocked at what happened, it made me think of the Twin Towers.

"We don't yet know what caused the Grenfell fire, but I will be asking the NIHE a lot of questions around safety checks and materials, as well as whether there is information for residents in the event of a fire, if fire extinguishers and sprinklers are on every level, and what happens in the case of disabled, elderly or sick residents when lifts aren't working.

"The safety of our constituents is our number one priority. I would like to send my condolences to everyone affected by the Grenfell blaze. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those who passed away and those who are injured."

To view Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service's (NIFRS) safety advice for residents of high-rise accommodation, visit: www.nifrs.org/fire-safety/community-information-bulletins. Alternatively, contact the NIFRS prevention and protection department on 028 9266 4221.

NIHE fire safety advice is available at www.nihe.gov.uk/highrise_buildings or from a local office.

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