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Chobham Street bonfire: Homes evacuated, others boarded up, as hour of the 'towering inferno' looms

'It's a siege mentality. They don't give a hoot about the residents'

By Claire McNeilly

Terrified residents have told how they have been advised to board themselves into their own homes for protection from a massive bonfire.

The windows of 52 houses in east Belfast were fitted with fire-resistant panels yesterday ahead of the eleventh night, while boards to cover the doors are to be erected later.

As first revealed by the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week, a number of families have moved out of the area around Chobham Street amid fears of what will happen when a towering loyalist bonfire is lit just 30 feet from their properties.

But people who weren't being evacuated have raised safety concerns about the pyre, which has been built on waste ground at the Comber Greenway, just yards from the buildings and a copse of trees.

A resident of Finvoy Street, situated behind the trees opposite the bonfire, said she was "nervous" about tonight.

"We've been told to put the board on the front door and stay inside when they light the bonfire," the pensioner said.

"My daughter is coming round to sit with me as I'm too scared to stay in the house alone.

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"People around here are frightened because the bonfire is a lot bigger this year than it has ever been and because we've never had to be boarded up in our houses before."

There are already 1,700 pallets on the 30ft bonfire, which has a core of tyres down the middle - and there are 700 additional pallets which could be added to it.

"I'm glad I won't be able to see the trees in front of my home being burnt down because that would be awful," the woman, who asked not to be named, said.

"The people building the bonfire just want to have a good night but I don't think they understand that the rest of us - who used to enjoy watching the bonfire from the top of the street - won't be able to.

"After 11.30pm we won't see anything at all because we'll all be locked inside our houses."

She added: "I just wish it was all over, to be honest."

Another resident said he'd been told the row of trees in front of his house will go up in flames.

"It's absolutely ridiculous that nobody can do anything to stop this from happening," he said.

"It's a siege mentality. They don't give a hoot about the residents.

"I can't abide the idea of sitting in there in the dark tomorrow night. It's horrible." Homes close to the bonfire at Lena Street and Chobham Street were boarded up by lunchtime yesterday.

At nearby Beechwood Street, where property maintenance contractors employed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive were still working, a female resident said she was worried.

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"Hopefully nothing bad is going to happen," she added.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said lives and property were being put at risk.

"Even at this late stage I'm asking the people behind the bonfire to reduce its size," he said.

"It's deeply worrying and unacceptable.

"People could lose their lives and homes could be damaged.

"I don't want to see this area ruined.

"I was born and brought up in it. I'm appealing to people to listen to the voice of reason."

One of the organisers of the Comber Greenway bonfire said there were no plans to reduce its size.

He also confirmed that no decision had been made on whether to add an extra 700 pallets to it on the eleventh night, or to use them for a second fire the following night.

Every year in Northern Ireland loyalists compete to see who can build the biggest July 11 bonfire.

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