November 26th, 2014

Lower Shankill residents slam 'deadly' bonfire

Northern IrelandBy Richard Sullivan
The controversial Lower Shankill bonfire
The controversial Lower Shankill bonfire

Lower Shankill residents have slammed housing chiefs and city council boss as cowards for putting their lives at risk on the 11th Night.

Householders in Florence Court and Hopewell Crescent were forced to flee their homes after sparks from the giant Lower Shankill bonfire threatened to set their houses alight.

Three homes were damaged as fires broke out on roofs. 

The Fire Service had to use foam to dampen down buildings at risk from the intense heat, in all up to 18 houses were affected as the bonfire threatened to blaze out of control.

Guttering melted and a number of residents claim their homes have suffered water damage.

“We have nothing but praise for the Northern Ireland Fire Service,” one resident told us. “Were it not for them I truly believe people could have lost their lives on the 11th Night.”

 

She revealed she had to scramble out the back door of an elderly relative’s home as sparks threatened to ignite the house.

 

“She’s an elderly lady in ill health, she has lived on the Shankill all her life and for the past three months her life has been made a misery by the bully boys who have building this bonfire.”

Fire builders have been collecting material for the bonfire since April and despite controversy last year when residents claimed it was being built too close to people’s homes, it was built on the same site.

Residents had made repeated calls to the Housing Executive – on whose land it was built – and Belfast City Council warning them the bonfire was dangerous.

“I myself have called them repeatedly, others have called them repeatedly and they don’t want to know. They abandoned the decent people of this state to the mercy of the bully boys.”

It is understood organisers of an 11th Night street party were awarded a grant by the City Hall.

“The music started at 11pm and didn’t finish until seven on Saturday morning, all dancing round drunk at the foot of this ridiculous bonfire, while the rest of can’t sleep and are left living in fear.

“The Housing Executive and the Council are just cowards, and I’ve told them that. People here have had enough there won’t be a bonfire here next year if we have anything to do with it.”

The bonfire was still burning on Saturday afternoon and has been smouldering for days, leaving a huge scorch mark on the land.

“The Council is happy to give these bully boys money yet they ignore law abiding citizens, and the Housing Executive aren’t so slow when it comes to collecting our rent. It’s a disgrace.”

The Fire Service received a total of 160 fire calls on the 11th Night, a slight decrease on last year's numbers.

Fifty eight incidents were bonfire related, with 28 of these requiring active intervention by crews.

A large bonfire at Hopewell Avenue off the Cliftonville Road required the attendance of four fire engines to deal with the blaze. Four main jets, two foam jets and two hosereel jets were deployed as three nearby roofs were being affected by the blaze. 

Four people including an elderly gentleman were also led to safety by NIFRS personnel.