Northern Ireland

Residents' fears over huge bonfire in Ballyduff estate

Bonfire
Image caption Some residents said they felt intimidated and were reluctant to publicly criticise the bonfire
Bonfire
Image caption It is due to be lit next month, as part of the annual 12th July celebrations
Bonfire
Image caption The Housing Executive, which owns the land and many of the houses, said it shares the residents' concerns
Bonfire
Image caption A report on the issue stated firefighters may "spray foam on properties in the danger area"

Residents have raised safety concerns over a huge bonfire built near homes in a County Antrim housing estate.

The bonfire towers over nearby houses at Ballyduff estate in Newtownabbey and is due to be lit next month, as part of the annual 12th July celebrations.

The Housing Executive, which owns the land and many of the houses, said it shares the residents' concerns.

It produced a report on the issue that stated firefighters may "spray foam on properties in the danger area".

However, the report also warned there was a possibility that the Fire Service equipment necessary to spray the foam might not be available on the night of the bonfire, if there were other emergencies.

'Worst ever'

The tower, constructed mainly of wooden pallets, has been built on a large green area within the housing estate.

It is almost twice the size of the houses and it is fewer than 100 yards from some of the residents' garden gates.

A number of residents called a meeting this week, amid fears that the flames could spread to their homes when the bonfire is lit.

Speaking to the BBC's Nolan Show, they said they felt intimidated and were reluctant to publicly criticise the bonfire, but added that the situation had come to a head and they had to speak out.

"If a spark gets in through any of those eaves up there, this whole row is going to go up," one woman told the programme.

She added: "This has been the very worst ever and everybody is up in arms about it. Nobody wants it it, they are bringing the whole tone of the estate down, and all this red, white and blue - that's nothing to do with the Twelfth. That fire has nothing to do with the Twelfth."

'Unsafe structure'

Another woman, who also did not want to named said: "A lot of us have lived here a long, long time. We have never been against a bonfire in this estate. We're not against anybody celebrating their culture, but this is not culture, this is going against their community."

She added: "This bonfire is an unsafe structure that is going to cause damage and upset in (the bonfire organisers') community."

Another resident, who is in her late 70s and has lived in the estate for 15 years, said her fears over the fire had made her want to move out.

"It's a total nightmare. I don't sleep at night, I hate getting up in the morning. I hate my home now, I'd just love to get away out of here," the pensioner said.

However, a Ballyduff resident named "Greg", who said he had been involved in collecting material for the bonfire, contacted the programme to claim the organisers had been given assurances that firefighters could contain the blaze.

He said he had lived in the estate for 35 years and bonfires were "part of our culture and our heritage".

Asked why the structure was so big, Greg told the programme the organisers were competing with other bonfire builders.

"It's competition and it's pride, you know? We have pride in what we do".

He added that organisers had tried to build the structure on a different site earlier this year, but it had "started to slide" on uneven ground.

He said due to "health and safety concerns", the bonfire was then moved to its current position on the green a number of weeks ago, because it was a flat piece of ground on which to build.

Residents who organised the meeting have criticised the response of the Housing Executive, Newtownabbey Borough Council and the police, accusing them of not doing enough to protect their homes.

'Tyres removed'

In a statement to the Nolan Show, Newtownabbey Borough Council said it has received numerous complaints from local residents worried about the size of the structure.

It added that in recent weeks it had removed 4,000 tyres from the site "through local agreement". The council said it hoped to "continue to engage positively on the matter to reduce the negative impact on local residents".

The Housing Executive held a meeting with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) to discuss the safety concerns that had been raised.

A report produced as a result of the meeting stated that "the NIFRS are hoping to bring a tender to spray foam on properties in the danger area but there is always a possibility it might not be available due to emergency commitments".

The Housing Executive told the Nolan Show said it "shares the concerns residents have with regard to the location and safety of this bonfire and will continue working with the Fire and Rescue Service, the PSNI and local residents with a view to protecting protecting properties from damage".

In its statement, the PSNI told the programme: "Whilst the physical removal of bonfires is not a matter for police, local neighbourhood officers can and do attend when requested to do so by agencies involved in bonfire removal."

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