Belfast Telegraph

Fire crews rescue baby boy and 12 others trapped in their homes after arson attack on block of flats

BY DONNA DEENEY

A one-year-old baby boy was among 13 people rescued by firefighters from a suspected arson attack at flats in Londonderry.

Residents were awakened by smoke alarms in the early hours of yesterday morning and the sight of black, acrid smoke coming in through the front doors of their homes.

A joint police and fire investigation is continuing into the cause of the fire in a communal stairway of the flats in the Carnhill area of Derry.

No motive for the attack has been established.

There were dramatic scenes as fire crews rescued a number of residents trapped in first floor flats including little James Meenan and his parents who were asleep in bed when the fire broke out.

James' father Richard said: "My girlfriend Michelle woke up around 6am to get up with our son and she could hear a smoke alarm going off in one of the flats and she went out to our front door to see if there was any smoke.

"Straightaway she could smell the smoke coming in through the door.

"She rushed in and woke me and we threw on some clothes and grabbed our son James.

"I went to the front door, but were trapped inside by the thick smoke so we went into the kitchen and put some wet towels over our mouths.

"I rang the fire service and they got here really, really fast for us. They took James out the living room window.

"He was actually laughing. He didn't know what was going on, he just saw the blue lights but we got him out and that was the main thing.

"They had to break the front window then to rescue us and we have been out since."

The alarm was initially raised by Lawrence Cooke who also had to be assisted by the fire service to safety.

He explained: "My smoke alarm went off at about 6am and my first thought was there was a problem in my flat.

"I live in the top floor at the back of the block. There are six flats in all, and when I opened the door I couldn't get out because the smoke was so thick and black. I went to the window, just so I could breathe for a couple of minutes, and then I started to think 'how am I going to get out' because I am upstairs.

"I leaned out and reached the flat below and alerted the man there because he wasn't aware of it so he then let the rest of the people know.

"They were able to get out of their windows but we had to be rescued by the fire service.

"Nobody could get down the stairs."

Western Area Fire Service commander Trevor Ferguson described the situation that his officers were faced with as "harrowing and difficult".

He said: "The fire had developed in a communal stairway and a number of people were trapped inside their flats and had to be taken to safety."

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