Sandy Row bonfire: 'We'll build it bigger and better' say loyalists after pyre was set alight early
The loyalist community of Belfast's Sandy Row has vowed to build a bigger and better bonfire after their Eleventh Night focal point was deliberately set alight.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service received a call at 9.33am yesterday over a report of a fire on waste ground in the Wellwood Street area just off Great Victoria Street.
Firefighters could do little but let the blaze burn itself out while damping down the surrounding area and prevent other unused bonfire material from catching alight.
The fire is being treated as deliberate.
A man in his 30s was arrested in the aftermath of the incident.
It's not clear what the motive for setting the bonfire alight was, but some local residents blamed people from other loyalist areas jealous at the size of the Sandy Row pyre.
People living in the area expressed their disappointment that around 1,000 wooden pallets had been destroyed ahead of next month's festivities.
"It's terrible," one woman said.
"It's disgusting. They are jealous of it because it was the biggest one."
One man said: "What can you say... Sandy Row do it best. There are more pallets on their way."
Teenagers keeping an eye on the bonfire to protect it had just left the site yesterday morning when it was targeted.
The intense heat from the burning wood and other combustible material reportedly cracked some windows in nearby buildings.
Chief Inspector Robert Murdie said: "At this stage it is believed that a bonfire sited in the area has been deliberately ignited which has led to disturbances in the area.
"One man in his 30s has been arrested as a result of the disturbances and is in custody helping police with their inquiries."
Following disturbances two young men who were sheltering in an office building close to the Sandy Row bonfire scene were escorted away by police for their own safety.
They were not under arrest.
An eyewitness passing through the area said he saw groups of youths running through the streets apparently pursuing other groups of young people.
Community safety officer for the area Eddie Kelly said: "I came down at about 10 o'clock and the bonfire was in full flight.
"A lot of people were around, very, very angry, wanting to take the law into their own hands.
"Obviously if they had of got the ones that burnt it they would have done a lot of damage."
Mr Kelly received a call from police advising him there had been a disturbance and a man had been arrested.
He appealed for calm.
"There has been one arrest already and we don't want any more," he added.
Bewildered guests from a nearby hotel, many from overseas, watched on as the flames from the fire shot high into the air.
DUP councillor Ruth Patterson said five bonfires had been targeted in Belfast over the past few days.
"A number of fires in east Belfast were deliberately targeted to antagonise and provoke a reaction," she said.
Mrs Patterson appealed for an end to these deliberate acts.
"I totally condemn the act at Sandy Row and call on them to stop," she said.
"They are not going to get the reaction they want.
"I am sure the community of Sandy Row will build a bigger and better one."