Belfast Telegraph

Shankill bonfire could have killed, review needed to improve safety in future, says Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston

Pensioner and child had to be rescued from Hopewell Square homes as fire spreads from bonfire - Fire Service attend over 100 emergency calls over night across Northern Ireland

A fire which spread from a Shankill bonfire 'could have killed' and a review must take place to consider the safety of the annual fires, Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston has said.

Homes in the lower Shankill Road area were destroyed after they caught fire during an Eleventh Night bonfire.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said it had four appliances dealing with a significant fire involving a row of terrace properties in Hopewell Square in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Moments before the fire service arrived a man had climbed 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.

More: Thousands turn out to watch Eleventh Night bonfires burn

Spectators could be seen shielding themselves with pieces of wood as burning debris was strewn across the street.

Two of the homes have been left gutted while one other has been significantly damaged.

Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said a pensioner and a child were asleep in their beds when a shower of sparks ignited their home and they had to be rescued.

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

He added: "We are very lucky we are not looking at a death or injury. I have spoken to the relatives of one of the families affected and they say they are angry and alarmed at what has happened.

"There will have to be a review and possibly statutory measures."

Three of the homes significantly damaged, the Lord Mayor said, were Housing Executive properties. It is working on repairs and finding the residents alternative accommodation.

A number of other properties in the row of terraced homes have also been damaged by heat and water, the DUP councillor said.

Mayor Kingston added: "Bonfires are an important part of the loyalist community culture. They can be dangerous and a spectacle, which is probably part of the attraction.

"But it is clear that there has been damage here because of the bonfire.

"Ultimately no one should lose their home because of a bonfire and we have to consider ways of reducing the danger and that needs to be worked through."

A funding page has been been set up to help the families of those affected.

The Fire Service remained at the scene on Tuesday morning.

Late last night families were seen fleeing from their home with bags of belongings to a neighbours house.

On Tuesday morning the extent of the damage caused to the houses could be seen.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Alan Walmsley told the BBC that the properties were 50 metres from the bonfire.

He said that the cause of the blaze was being investigated but that they believed the fire was caused, not by heat radiating from the bonfire, but rather burning embers blowing from the pyre.

Overnight 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 active intervention by crews.

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

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

The traditional "Eleventh Night" fires mark the start of commemorations of the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.

The lighting of the towering structures, most built with stacks of wooden pallets, drew thousands of onlookers, but was again the source of controversy despite the efforts of organisers to improve their image.

To their defenders they make for a family-friendly, spectacular celebration of loyalist/Protestant culture; to their detractors they are potentially dangerous, environmentally damaging, magnets for anti-social behaviour and alienating to nationalists.

There were complaints of the burning of Sinn Fein election posters made for May's Stormont Assembly poll as well as the use of toxic tyres.

In recent years, bonfire builders have faced criticism after items linked to the nationalist/republican tradition - such as Irish flags and posters, and effigies of high-profile politicians - were placed on top of some of the fires and torched.

Last year, homes near Chobham Street in east Belfast had to be evacuated over fears the giant nearby bonfire could topple onto property.

While this year's bonfire in that neighbourhood has been moved away from those homes, and is set to be smaller in scale, the fire is still proving contentious. Equipment in a newly-built children's play park has had to be moved amid fears of damage.

At the Ballybeen bonfire at Dundonald in greater Belfast, environmental concerns about noxious fumes have been raised after footage emerged of a large number of tyres being dumped at the site for burning.

Many fires were lit late on Monday night, ushering in Tuesday's Twelfth of July parades.

Authorities in Northern Ireland are cautiously optimistic the Twelfth can pass off peacefully, but have a major policing operation planned to deal with any unrest.


From Belfast Telegraph