Disabled mother and daughter 'lucky to be alive' after arsonists set bins ablaze
Pensioners are lucky to be alive after fire ripped through their homes - the third suspected arson attack in recent months.
Helped by firefighters, an elderly woman and her daughter - both disabled - escaped from their bungalow at Kirkistown Walk in Belfast's Belvoir estate just moments before the roof collapsed.
Another resident, Alwyn Crawford (48) yesterday choked back tears as he told of how his prized pigeons perished in the fire.
The blaze is believed to have been started maliciously when bins were set alight.
But Alwyn was also grateful to his son, 18-year-old Rhys, who he hailed a hero for saving his life when he raised the alarm after the early morning fire.
Mr Crawford was emotional as he hugged his son, grateful he had been awake at the time and quickly alerted his dad to the fire.
He spoke of his beloved pigeons after approximately 20 of them were found charred in their coop. He said he was sure the fire had been started maliciously. "The lid of the bin was open and it didn't set itself alight," he said.
Nearby, elderly heart patient Michael Hammond (72) and his wife Sharon (68) - who were the victims of a similar bin fire last October - have lost expensive household appliances and even two mobility scooters.
Police are investigating the fire which destroyed one house and damaged six others in a row of mostly pensioners' bungalows.
It also ruptured an oil tank, causing its contents to leak down the street and under a car whose owner had to quickly remove it from the scene.
Smoke alarms alerted the mother and daughter of the fire at their home but others praised a local man walking his dog for quickly summoning the Fire Service. Michael Hammond, meanwhile, walked about his patio which was strewn with broken glass and emitting a choking smell of burnt plastic, showing police the ruins of three sheds and a small greenhouse.
Supported by two crutches, the frail man, who has had more than one heart attack and suffers from spinal stenosis, lost two mobility scooters in the blaze, zimmer frames and a brand new tumble dryer and fridge freezer stocked with food.
"I came down to make a cup of tea and saw the flames through the window," he said.
His wife Sharon added: "He opened the door and the force of the fire pushed him back."
Stephen Drake of the Belvoir Area Residents' Group said there "could have been numerous fatalities from this".
Police are asking anyone who witnessed suspicious activity in the area at around 5am to contact them. Detective Inspector Harry Colgan said: "Police, along with Fire Service personnel, were thankfully able to evacuate residents to safety while the fire was extinguished.
"We are appealing to anyone with information to get in touch with reactive and organised crime detectives by calling 101."