Huge blaze at old hospital 'was deliberate': Fire Service
A major fire at a disused hospital in Londonderry was an arson attack, the Fire Service has said.
Flames from the old Stradreagh Hospital, which dates back to 1902, could been seen for miles around, stretching into the morning skies amid clouds of thick grey smoke.
The blaze was already raging by the time the Fire Service was alerted at 7.20am yesterday, after which six appliances and 44 firefighters attended.
Fire commander Mark Deeney said that despite difficulties in accessing the boarded-up building, the fire was brought under control before the structure was completely destroyed.
He added: "We have handed the investigation over to the PSNI now because it appears that the fire was started deliberately. The fire was contained to one section of the building but had spread over two floors and was well-established by the time we arrived.
"It was quite difficult to access because it is unoccupied and has been boarded-up for quite some time.
"However, the building is of a solid construction and its integrity was not compromised."
The building, which is owned by the Western Trust, dates back to the beginning of the last century, when it opened as the Londonderry Lunatic Asylum at Gransha in what was seen at the time as progressive move.
It replaced the 18th century facility that used to sit on the aptly named Asylum Road in Derry city centre.
Despite its long history, the building has never been awarded listed status.
The Western Trust moved its mental health services out of the building more than 20 years ago. It was used by Oakgrove Integrated College until it secured funding for new premises.
Heritage campaigner Mark Lusby said important buildings such as the one damaged in the blaze needed to be better protected.
He added: "This building is an important part of the medical history, going towards the formation of the National Health Service, and I am relieved that the Fire Service was able to save it. The Council must include this important building in a masterplan of the city's built heritage before it is lost completely.
"People interested in the cultural and economic value of our city's architectural heritage should be asking themselves, 'Where is our district council's heritage strategy?' And asking why key buildings like this one are slipping through the net."