Elderly residents evacuated as police treat blaze as arson
A man has spoken of the terrifying moment he helped rescue his elderly neighbour as fire engulfed their block of flats in Newcastle.
Four homes were badly damaged in the blaze which started after an oil tank was set alight early yesterday morning.
No-one was injured in the inferno, although 12 properties at Bracken Avenue, which is home to many elderly people, were evacuated at around 3.15am.
Police are investigating a possible link between the attack and three other recent fires in the area.
Seven pumps, a specialist high reach appliance and 50 firefighters were sent to tackle the fire.
Paul McDermott (48) fled his first-floor flat after hearing sparks from the back of the property.
He described the moment he and another resident helped their elderly neighbour from the burning building.
"She was confused by what was happening and in shock, so we had to help her get out of the flat and take her outside on to the road, across the street and far away from the flat as the fire was spreading," he explained.
"She's in her 70s and lives alone.
"I left everything behind, including my phone and clothes. My flat is next to the one where the roof collapsed, so I don't know what damage has been caused."
Evacuated residents were taken to Clare Lodge in the town where they will stay until alternative accommodation is found.
Mr McDermott said he believed the fire was caused by vandals.
"Everyone was disgusted because this has happened three or four times out the back of those flats. I don't know who is doing it or why, but I think it's vandals.
"The smoke damage is really bad and it means we could be here a while. Everyone wants to go home but we just have to wait and see what happens."
John Murray (25), who has lived in the area for three years, said it was lucky no one had been killed.
"I first knew about it when the police came knocking on my door asking me to get out," he said.
"I looked outside and saw all the commotion and people across the street. I left the house and saw the huge fire. I stayed with a neighbour until it was over.
Fire station commander Mark Smyth described it as a large, serious fire and said that it could have been "very different" if people had been caught in the fire.
A statement from the Housing Executive, which owns most of the affected homes, said: "Our 11 tenants have been taken to Clare Lodge, run by St Vincent de Paul, where our team are working with them regarding their accommodation options.
"The PSNI is carrying out its investigation of the site. Our contractors are on standby to carry out remedial work at the site to ensure the properties remain safe once we receive clearance from the PSNI to enter."