Dunmurry residents' miracle escape as fire engulfs street
Families were last night preparing to rebuild their lives after their homes were destroyed in a raging inferno on the outskirts of south Belfast.
Among those left homeless by the blaze were a couple just returned from their honeymoon and a young family who had recently moved into one of the properties.
The Housing Executive is providing emergency housing to residents who were unable to return to their homes last night.
The houses were gutted when a blaze ripped through a row of terraced properties at Sunnyhill Park, Dunmurry, in the early hours yesterday. Miraculously, nobody was hurt.
The fire is believed to have started in a garden shed at around 3.50am before spreading to oil tanks in the back gardens of neighbouring houses which then exploded, fuelling a major conflagration.
At one point 60 firefighters and eight appliances attended the incident, taking nearly four hours to extinguish the fire.
Four properties in the street were extensively damaged, with the roofs of two houses nearly totally consumed in the blaze. Twelve homes had to be evacuated.
The full extent of the devastation could be seen at the back of the affected houses which were burned open as a river of fire spread along the row.
Kitchens and bedrooms facing onto the gardens of the homes were turned into blackened shells as the fire tore through PVC windows and doors.
Twisted remains of lawnmowers, barbecues, garden fences and furniture could be seen poking through heaps of cinders.
At its height, flames were seen to extend almost 140ft into the air above the street.
One witness, who lives close by, said he was woken up at around 4am by "a loud explosion". After looking out his window, he spotted the flames and immediately alerted the emergency services.
"A passing taxi driver had already reported that a fence was on fire but obviously had no idea how extensive the fire was.
"When I rang the emergency services the guttering was already ablaze on two of the houses," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The fire took hold extremely rapidly and was hundreds of feet high. It was obvious from the smoke that it was oil that was burning.
"Unfortunately one of the residents had recently filled his oil tank, just over the weekend, and there was quite a lot of fuel and it flowed down the row, igniting the houses as it went along.
"The fire was burning the hedges of my next-door neighbour. She was asleep and I couldn't wake her, so I went over with my garden hose and plugged it into her outside tap."
He explained: "I sprayed her fence, hedge and trees, the heat was fierce."
"The power was one of the first things to go," he said and in eyewitness pictures, viewable on our website, sparks from electricity lines can be seen flying amid the flames. Another resident who lives near the damaged houses said she was awoken by "popping noises".
"You could feel the heat of the fire even after you closed the door," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It just happened so quickly."
Another resident, Isar Ali, started rapping the doors of some of the houses to wake the residents up.
"Luckily enough I got them up and it really was just in time because they were asleep and they got out just in time," he told UTV Live.
Fire Service area commander Kevin O'Neill described the fire as "complex", adding that they had "five jets on the properties along with foam jets".
He commended the "good work" of the neighbours who displayed "inspiring community spirit" during the evacuation of the street.