Belfast Telegraph

Belfast bonfire threatened 10-storey tower block in Sandy Row

By Aaron Tinney

Firefighters "narrowly" stopped a huge Belfast bonfire from spreading to a 10-storey tower block.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Northern Ireland Alan Walmsley told the Belfast Telegraph how his men just about managed to avert a potential disaster.

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

And a leading unionist councillor has praised the NI Fire and Rescue Service, claiming they may have prevented a tragedy similar to the Grenfell Tower blaze in which more than 80 people died.

The Eleventh Night pyre between Sandy Row and Great Victoria Street blazed so hot it melted and cracked windows on every floor of a high-rise on Wellwood Street.

Some residents were forced to evacuate the Victoria Place apartment complex as firefighters blasted the top and bottom of the building with water to stop the heat of the bonfire spreading inside.

Lucy Ryan, who lives in the flat block, posted videos of the fire crews in action on Twitter and wrote beside one clip: "Glass cracked right to the 11th floor."

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Speaking after an exhausting shift into the early hours, Mr Walmsley said: "The fire service's actions at the tower block certainly prevented the windows from totally failing.

"If they had, we would be looking at a far more serious incident.

"We had men on the ground and the roof, with jets of water cooling the building from the bottom to the top.

"Firefighters on the roof of the apartment block used a deluge system down the front of the building, trying to cool it down.

"The windows on the front of the building cracked from the heat. If it wasn't for the hard work of our crews in very difficult conditions, there's no doubt the damage would have been much worse and that fire would have spread into that building."

Belfast City Council Alderman Jim Rodgers expressed deep concern over the potential for lives being lost.

He added: "I just don't know what people are thinking when they flout public safety and build unsafe bonfires that close to buildings.

"I do not oppose bonfires. What I am against is people doing whatever they want in their construction.

"This cannot be allowed to happen ever again, and it is especially shocking it did in the context of the Grenfell disaster.

"Life is too precious to toy with it like this and had it not been for the excellent work of the Fire Service, we could be looking at a major tragedy today."

Mr Rodgers added he wanted work to start "immediately and not next June" on ensuring stricter regulations for loyalist Eleventh Night bonfires.

Mr Walmsley, who has been with the Fire Service for 27 years, said the Wellwood Street incident was one of the most "challenging" of Tuesday night, which saw Northern Ireland's firefighters stretched to the limit.

He added it was now up to a "range of stakeholders" including the Fire Service to address the risks posed by potentially deadly Eleventh Night bonfires before life-threatening incidents are repeated next year.

Pastor Paul Burns, who has been the minister of Adullam Christian Fellowship Church on Sandy Row for 20 years, blamed an attack on firefighters on Wellwood Street on a "small group of eejits from outside the area" and said residents came out in force to stop them targeting them.

In Derry, eight homes in the Clooney Park Gardens area were evacuated and doused by the Fire Service after a bonfire was lit nearby.

One of the biggest Eleventh Night bonfires ignited prematurely, with firefighters working through the early hours of Tuesday to extinguish the blaze in Carrickfergus.

Police are also appealing for information after an 18-year-old woman was punched at a bonfire in Larne in the early hours yesterday. She received hospital treatment for an injury to her jaw that was not believed to be serious, police said.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph