Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Fire Service tackles over 1,800 bonfires in five years

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) tackled over 1,800 fires in five years, new figures have revealed.

Information released by news website The Detail show between 2013 and 2017 there were a total of 1,809 call outs, coming at a cost of almost £330,000.

The figures have been released in the run-up to the Twelfth celebrations with growing attention on the safety of pyres across Northern Ireland.

On Monday residents in Co Down expressed outrage over the construction of an unsafe bonfire next to an electrical sub-station.

Concerns were also expressed about a bonfire in east Belfast next to the Walkway Community Centre, which was believed to be too close to trees, houses, and a children's play park.

A spokesperson for NIFRS told The Detail its "statutory duty" is to "protect people and property from the dangers of fire" and "if we are called out to a bonfire which has been lit it is because someone in that community is concerned and has dialled 999 for help".

“We provide bonfire safety advice to those building bonfires in order to protect life, property and the environment,” they said.

Of the total calls outs, more than a third - 36% - happened in July, often in advance of Eleventh Night bonfires and marches on the Twelfth.

On 16 days in the period examined fire engines were called out to deal with bonfires on 15 or more occasions, with 10 of these days falling in July, five in October (around the Halloween period), and one day falling in August.

Some nationalist communities across Northern Ireland mark the introduction of internment in 1971 with the lighting of bonfires on August 8 - an event which drew more than 15 Fire Service call outs in 2016.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew praised the work of the NIFRS, but warned against the potential environmental hazard posed by bonfires.

"I don’t want to see toxic tyres or waste material burnt on bonfires. That is an environmental risk and a health risk for anyone living in the area," he said.

"The Green Party recognises bonfire celebrations can make a positive contribution to the diverse cultural calendar, where there is genuine community consent.

“Unfortunately, a number of bonfires have come into sharp focus because of safety risks and paramilitary influence.

“Politicians must use their influence to ensure that paramilitaries don't hijack bonfires and that they remain a true community event."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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