Disabled resident's terrifying escape during blaze at eight-storey Belfast flats
A disabled resident of an eight-storey apartment complex which caught fire in Belfast city centre has described his terrifying escape from the burning building.
Gregory Carlin - who lives on the fourth floor of 97 Great Victoria Street - was alerted to the blaze by "shouts and screams" in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Speaking from the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast where he was being treated for smoke inhalation, Mr Carlin described the terrifying moment he opened his door and saw the "thick black plumes" of smoke filling the inside of the complex.
"There was nowhere for it all to go," he said.
"It just filled the entire foyer, it was very scary."
The frightened tenant, who has limited mobility, watched as around 80 terrified residents made their way through the internal courtyard as smoke billowed out from a first floor property.
A spokesperson for NI Fire and Rescue Service confirmed most occupants had left the building by the time they arrived, which was within two minutes of the incident being reported.
Eight appliances and 55 firefighters were dispatched to the scene alongside NI Ambulance Service crews, police and Belfast city council representatives.
Mr Carlin, who relies on a wheelchair, watched as firefighters wearing breathing apparatus "kicked down doors" to search for people within the immediate danger zone.
"No one rescued me," he added.
"I made my own way down four flights of stairs using two crutches.
"I couldn't see in front of my nose but I eventually made my way out."
The 61-year-old tenant added: "It was a significant amount of time after everyone else had made it out - I had to get over four hoses which were coming in the door before I was put into an ambulance."
Most of the 24 residents displaced by the fire, which caused extensive damage, have been allowed to return from a nearby community centre.
The incident was dealt with by 6am.
Last night Mr Carlin, who was one of two residents taken to hospital, said he had been sent home with antibiotics and painkillers.
"My chest is very sore, but this could have been a lot worse," he said.
In July 2018, the stroke survivor flagged up a catalogue of serious concerns regarding restricted access to the building's three fire exits.
Choice Housing - which owns the building - took swift action to clear up the internal courtyard which 'resembled a building site', after Mr Carlin's concerns were raised.
Last night Mr Carlin expressed relief that he spoke out at the time.
"I am so happy I raised the issue," he said.
"What I feared would happen has happened, but thankfully the courtyard was clear."
A spokesperson for the housing association said it will carry out an internal review and consider any recommendations made by statutory agencies including the Fire and Rescue Service and PSNI.
They also thanked emergency services for their quick response and the on-site concierge who assisted with the evacuation of tenants.
It is believed the fire was started accidentally although a PSNI spokesperson said enquiries are ongoing.