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Firefighters run gauntlet of thugs on busiest Halloween night for crews in five years

By Kylie Noble

Published 02/11/2016

Cars were attacked at Rugby Avenue in south Belfast by drunken yobs during Halloween ‘celebrations’
Cars were attacked at Rugby Avenue in south Belfast by drunken yobs during Halloween ‘celebrations’
Cars were attacked at Rugby Avenue in south Belfast by drunken yobs during Halloween ‘celebrations’

The Fire Service has reported its busiest Halloween night for five years.

It received 232 calls and crews attended 166 incidents across Northern Ireland - an increase of 47% in call-outs compared to 2015.

Firefighters came under attack from young people throwing fireworks in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

They also had to retreat from incidents in Newry and Rostrevor due to hostile crowds.

And in Belfast five cars had their windows smashed in the Holylands area.

Although no firefighters were injured in the attacks, NI Fire and Rescue Service area commander Randy McComb said such "lawless acts" were a "detriment to the whole community".

Mr McComb said that last year there had been a drop in incidents, and no attacks on officers.

He added: "It's disappointing, especially as the firefighters live and work within the local communities. They are trying to protect life and property."

The majority of incidents - some 47% - were located in the NIFRS Southern Area, covering Co Down and Co Armagh. Most involved grassland and bonfires built with tyres.

Some 93% of all fires attended over the 24 hours were started deliberately.

By contrast, from 6pm on July 11 until 1am on July 12 this year - another busy period for fire crews - NIFRS received a total of 123 emergency calls. Of these 42 were bonfire-related, and 16 required intervention by crews.

Mr McComb said Monday night's attacks and hostility were "unexpected".

"We have been working closely with the community, including elected representatives and local schools, in the run-up to Halloween. We would condemn any attacks," he added.

While no firefighters were injured and no blaze appeared to be a risk to the public, Mr McComb added: "We would seek assistance of the police if public safety is at risk."

The Holylands, the student heartland of Belfast, also saw an increase in anti-social behaviour this year.

One resident who has lived in the area for 30 years said: "This is the worst year for damage.

"There are a lot of blow-ins - people who see what happens on Paddy's Day and think Halloween is the same.

"It was not as bad for a while. Last night they took off, but it happens all-year round - this place is just a party centre. St Paddy's has set the standard for this area."

In the most serious incident, five cars had their windows smashed at Rugby Avenue.

A fire extinguisher, left lying in one of the cars, was thought to have been used in the wrecking spree.

Residents estimated the damage to be in the thousands.

One said he believed that at least two of the vehicles belonged to student teachers.

He said he knew to park his car away from the area at Halloween, suspecting there may be trouble.

He added: "It's all about the drink, they can't even be bothered to put the effort into the dressing up.

"They were running up and down the streets last night and there were house parties going on in nearly every house.

"We would have complained even if the cars were not smashed."

Belfast Telegraph

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