Fire Service in 'safety first' plea to bonfire builders and those attending big night
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has issued a safety warning to people attending Eleventh Night bonfires after it emerged the number of crew called to celebrations rose by more than a third last year.
NIFRS said that firefighters attended 33 bonfire-related incidents in 2016 between 6pm and 8am.
They dealt with 43 bonfire-related emergency calls - 12 more than in 2015 - representing a 48% increase.
The warning comes amid concerns over loyalist pyres close to residential and commercial properties.
Alan Walmsley, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, said there had been an increase last year following a downward trend in the number of bonfire-related incidents attended since 2013.
"In 2013 and 2014 we attended over 50 bonfire-related incidents each July 11, and in 2015 this figure dropped significantly to 24 incidents attended. Last year we saw a slight increase from 24 to 33," he said. "We are hoping this year to see a further reduction in the number of bonfire-related incidents we attend, but this can only be achieved if people think 'safety first' at bonfires."
One of the incidents hit the headlines after a number of homes in Hopewell Square off the Shankill Road caught fire. The inferno was sparked by burning embers from a fire blowing on to roofs.
Mr Walmsley said the fire service will continue to work with local communities. He has appealed directly to the bonfire builders and community representatives to listen to its advice.
"Bonfires should be kept at a manageable size and sited in a clear, open space at a safe distance from buildings and overhead cables. A bonfire should be a minimum distance of five times its height from property," he said.
He asked communities for their support to ensure firefighters could carry out their job without fear of attack or harassment.
The NIFRS also said it was working closely with partner agencies in relations to a bonfire being constructed across the road from a petrol station at Prince Andrew Way in Carrickfergus.