Belfast Telegraph

Sandy Row residents urge officials to act after near-miss at Belfast tower block

By Rachel Martin

Frustrated residents at a city centre apartment complex have called for officials to step in after an Eleventh Night bonfire, which toppled at Sandy Row, destroyed the exterior of their building.

Windows in the Victoria Place apartments cracked and broke, door seals melted and apartments filled with smoke as revellers celebrated in the car park below.

Video footage shows large cracks spreading across the glass panes of the 11-storey building as a wall of fire blazes just feet away.

Several residents staying in rooms along the front of the building had to evacuate due to the intense heat. A day later, the flats were still hot as the bonfire continued to smoulder.

One witness said the trouble started when only one side of the bonfire caught fire. As a result, he said the bonfire burned unevenly and came crashing down towards the apartments.

He described panicked scenes as the crowd rushed to move away from the falling bonfire.

It's thought at least 500 people turned out to join the celebrations.

Claire McCallum, from Edinburgh, has stayed in the building before with her husband and three-year-old daughter Lily. Her husband comes over every year with a band who perform in the Belfast parade.

She said: "We were upstairs in one of the balcony apartments. It was a lot hotter than normal; you could feel the windows were quite hot.

"I think the bonfire collapsed very quickly.

"We couldn't see the other side of it but I think it mainly came over towards the apartments. The embers were landing on the balcony and that's when we decided to come back in."

A man who had been living with his family in the apartments for two years said he had no problem with the bonfire happening, but asked that those responsible made sure it would not damage the surrounding buildings.

"People shouldn't have to live in fear like this," he said.

"I don't mind them having their celebration but why does it have to damage people's homes like this?

"They can have their celebration but I hope they make it smaller next time. The authorities need to do something about this."

Canadian photographer and app developer Wayne Baird said he kept a bag packed in case he needed to flee the building. He heard that residents staying closest to the fire had to abandon their apartments.

He said: "I've never seen anything like that last night before. I know where I'm from you just wouldn't get away with that.

"I don't mind them having a bonfire, it's their culture, but right next to a hotel? There's a Holiday Inn right there beside it - it's crazy.

"I'm just on the second floor. There were some people who left with their suitcases. There's one lady who was quite worried about her apartment and she's not even here - she's on holiday.

"It's disrespectful towards the public and the whole image Northern Ireland has - my friends are ringing me up wanting to know what's going on."

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