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Fire chief praises squads who fought 52 bonfires in two nights

By Rebecca Black

Published 14/07/2015

Firefighters tend to the blaze as members of the public shield their faces from the intense
Firefighters tend to the blaze as members of the public shield their faces from the intense heat
An effigy of Michelle Gildewnew
A youth is silhouetted against a bonfire in Sandy Row on Sunday night
Firefighters tend to the blaze as members of the public shield their faces from the intense heat
Firefighters tend to the blaze
Michelle Gildewnew
The towering bonfire at Sandy Row
An effigy of Padraig McShane

A fire Service chief has praised his staff for a successful weekend after firefighters managed to keep the public and property safe despite more than 100 bonfires being lit across Northern Ireland.

The traditional Eleventh Night bonfires were spread over two evenings this year due to July 12 falling on a Sunday.

It has been estimated there were up to 70 bonfires lit over the two nights in Belfast alone and more than 100 across the rest of Northern Ireland.

On Saturday and Sunday nights the Fire Service attended 52 calls for bonfires and had to take action at 19 of these.

These call-outs included one of the biggest bonfires at Sandy Row on Sunday night.

Eighteen firefighters stayed for more than two hours protecting property at Wellwood Street from the inferno.

On Saturday night 35 firefighters worked valiantly to protect houses on Chobham Street in east Belfast from a large bonfire from midnight to 2am.

However, no major injuries were reported. Only one man had to be treated for minor burns after an incident in Larne.

In total there were more call-outs for the Fire Service than last year on the Eleventh Night. In 2014 the Fire Service received 44 calls.

Assistant chief fire officer Alan Walmsley said it had been a "busy weekend" for fire crews over two evenings.

"Firefighters worked extremely hard, most people don't realise the conditions they are working in, the heat up close to these bonfires is unbelievable," he said.

"I would like the praise the crews, they really made the difference in keeping people safe."

Meanwhile there has been criticism of the burning of flags, symbols and effigies at a number of bonfires.

Former Fermanagh MP Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein spoke of her disgust after an effigy of her was hung from a bonfire in Moygashel along with a sign reading "Sinn Fein scum. Hands off our culture. Public Hanging 10.30pm".

The mother-of-three urged unionist and Orange leaders to take "courageous leadership" over the incident. "A disgusting display of bigoted sectarianism is the bonfire at Moygashel depicting an effigy of myself accompanied by a message declaring it to represent a public hanging," she said.

"It also makes reference to a quote by former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott when he referred to Sinn Fein voters as scum."

And Ms Gildernew added: "With that kind of leadership is it any wonder that these Neanderthals think this type of insult is part of their culture?"

Fermanagh MP Mr Elliott responded about the incident to the Impartial Reporter saying: "It was not appropriate, but it was much less than murdering people in sectarian acts."

Independent republican councillor on the north coast Padraig McShane was also vilified with a sinister effigy complete with a noose placed around his head at a bonfire in Bushmills.

In Belfast, Alliance councillor Michael Long hit out at his wife Naomi's election posters being burned on a bonfire.

"The reality is that these are not a celebration of culture in some cases, they're actually an act of hate and intimidation and as a result I've contacted the PSNI," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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