Mother and baby saved from bin fire fumes horror
A four-month-old baby girl and her mother were rescued from a toxic smoke-filled apartment block after arsonists propped a bin against the building and set it alight.
The child was among nine people – including an elderly couple – rescued in the early hours following the blaze which investigators believe was started deliberately.
Her mother said it was "a terrifying experience".
A senior fire officer described those responsible as "completely reckless" and praised his firefighters for saving the lives of those in the apartment block in Co Down.
Three people were taken to hospital and six others were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
The baby girl underwent tests at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and was last night staying with relatives.
None of those affected sustained life-threatening injuries.
The blaze at McLaughlin House on Saul Street in Downpatrick broke out about 2am yesterday.
James McAllister, group commander of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, said the building quickly filled with plumes of thick, black smoke.
Four fire appliances and a total of 24 firefighters were at the scene within 10 minutes and escorted everybody inside the building to safety.
"The toxic smoke from a wheelie bin is a killer," Mr McAllister told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It was a completely reckless act to set a bin on fire like that in a residential area."
Some residents were moved to a hotel in Ballynahinch and others are staying with family members or neighbours.
Margaret Ritchie, SDLP MP for the area, spoke to some of those affected.
She said they had been left badly-shaken by their ordeal.
"It is now important that the Housing Executive and the police service give priority to the early rehousing of these residents of this apartment block by ensuring that repairs are carried out as quickly as possible," she added.
Forensic investigators continued to examine the scene throughout yesterday.
Meanwhile, an 80-year-old man was left in a critical condition following a blaze at a property in north Belfast.
The fire started shortly after 6am in a terraced house on Carlisle Road in the New Lodge area.
Firefighters saved the man's life, carrying him to safety from the house and treating him on the street.
STORY SO FAR
Nine people – aged between five months and 88 years old – were rescued from an apartment block in Downpatrick.
Police and fire service investigators believe a bin was pushed against the property and set alight, filling it with poisonous fumes.
A senior fire officer said residents in the apartment block could have been killed as a result of the arson.