Belfast Telegraph

Belfast pensioner and family left homeless as Shankill bonfire destroys houses

By Rebecca Black

A pensioner and a young family have been left homeless after a bonfire in the Shankill Road area ignited a row of terraced houses.

Three of the properties were significantly damaged as burning embers from the huge pyre caught by the wind rained down on their rooftops.

Pensioner Lily Turtle was in bed in the first house that was set alight.

The 72-year-old and her two-year-old great granddaughter had been asleep.

A local man attempted to save the house by climbing up on the roof in a bid to extinguish the flames but then slipped as he tried to put it out.

He steadied himself and did not appear to be injured as he climbed down.

Ms Turtle's daughter described how she and other family members had been "hammering the door" and even considering breaking a window to get her out.

Mrs Turtle said: "My hearing isn't that good so I didn't hear them at the start, I am so shocked about what happened. I have been living here for more than 20 years.

"My grandson got me out."

Mrs Turtle said her neighbours have rallied around her.

Yesterday many gathered at her home to help her salvage whatever furniture she could from the wreckage.

She is currently staying with a family member nearby.

A young family lived in the second house to catch fire.

The father - who did not wish to be named - said his daughter was asleep upstairs in the property when he heard "crackling sounds".

"I heard what sounded like rustling up the stairs," he said.

"So I went up into the attic to see what was happening and I saw the smoke."

He said he woke his daughter and then ran next door to help his neighbour.

"The house is destroyed," he said."My bedroom ceiling is bulging like it's about to come in. It's not safe to be in."

A community fundraising effort has been set up to help the families to replace their lost belongings.

Last night it had already raised more than £500.

Organiser Stephen Paul said: "It's times like this that we need to pull together as a community to show are support for these families."

Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston visited the families yesterday morning and expressed his sadness at the incident.

"We are very lucky we are not looking at a death or injury," he said.

"I have spoken to the relatives of one of the families affected and they say they are angry and alarmed at what has happened."

He said the bonfire was part of Belfast City Council's protocol, and organisers had taken advice on the location of the pyre from the Housing Executive and the Fire Service.

"There will have to be a review and possibly statutory measures," Mr Kingston said.

Assistant chief fire officer Alan Walmsley said the fire would have had the potential to destroy the entire row of homes had it not been for the speedy action of fire crews.

"When we received a 999 call, the roof of one of the properties had already been ignited," he said.

"I'd like to praise the efforts of our crews who were there extremely quickly. We had four appliances and an aerial appliance there putting water on the fire to try to prevent further damage within five to six minutes.

"Unfortunately three houses were significantly damaged last night and obviously my thoughts are with the families today who have been displaced because of last night's fire."

Overnight between the Eleventh and Twelfth, the Fire Service handled 123 emergency calls, which was an increase in last year.

Of those incidents, 42 were bonfire-related and 16 of these required intervention by fire crews.

During the evening the Fire Service attended bonfire-related incidents in Bangor, Coleraine, Banbridge, Rathfriland, Dungannon, Londonderry, Portadown, Ballyhalbert and Limavady.

On the Albert Bridge Road in east Belfast fire crews were called to dampen down buildings next to a bonfire.

Belfast Telegraph


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