Shankill bonfire: Belfast terraced houses destroyed by blaze

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media captionTwo houses were gutted by fires close to a bonfire in the Shankill area | Video: Press Eye

Two terraced houses have been destroyed and another has been damaged close to a bonfire in Belfast's Shankill area.

Firefighters said it looked like the fires at Hopewell Square on Monday night may have been caused by burning embers carried through the air by wind.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe bonfire in the Shankill area was one of dozens set alight in Belfast on Monday night

Investigations are continuing. Traditional 'eleventh night' bonfires had been lit across Northern Ireland.

The fire service said out of the 123 calls it had received on Monday from 18:00 BST, 42 were bonfire related.

image copyrightPA
image captionFirefighters said they believe the fires were caused by burning embers carried through the air by wind

Firefighters had to intervene at 16 of those fires.

A man who lives in one of the houses said his daughter was asleep upstairs in the property when he heard "crackling sounds".

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionThe fires started on the roofs of the houses, leaving three of them badly damaged

"I heard what sounded like rustling up the stairs," he added. "So I went up into the attic to see what was happening and I saw the smoke."

He said he woke his daughter and then ran next door to help his neighbour.

image copyrightPress Eye
image captionLily Turtle - with her grand-daughter Skyla Hogg - assessed the damage to her home on Tuesday

"The house is destroyed. My bedroom ceiling is bulging like it's about to come in, it's not safe to be in."

Lily Turtle, an elderly woman, and her great-granddaughter lived in the house where the fire started.

media captionFirefighters tried to tackle to blazes that broke out on the roofs | Video: Nathan Gray

A young pregnant woman was among those who lived in another house that was smoke damaged in the blaze.

A woman from Hopewell Square whose house was not damaged in the fire said she had left her home to stay with her sister.

image copyrightReuters
image captionSome bystanders at the Shankill bonfire took shelter from embers blown from the bonfire

"It was like a volcano erupting," she said. "The sky was red, it was completely red.

"Your life's more important than your possessions.

image copyrightPA
image captionThe fire service said it received 42 calls linked to bonfires on Monday night

"I was so angry. When things settled, I thought; 'If my house goes, my possessions, all my kids' and grandkids' stuff, goes with it.'

"It's more upsetting to think that you've worked hard and this happens - it should never have happened.

image copyrightPress Eye
image captionThe fire service said the actions of its crews had prevented the row of houses from being destroyed

"It was horrendous - it was like what you see in a movie. The red in the sky, it was horrible."

Alan Walmsley of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said crews were at the incident in Hopewell Square "very quickly" and that their "hard work" had prevented a row of terraced houses being destroyed.

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionCouncil staff started a clean-up around the bonfire at Hopwell Square on Tuesday morning

He said that the fire service did not believe it was caused by radiated heat from the fire but possibly by burning debris.

"We believe there could have been the potential for hot, burning embers being carried by wind landing on the roof and then making their way down and falling into the roof," he added.

image captionThe ceilings of two of the houses collapsed during the fires

Nathan Gray was watching the bonfire at Hopewell Square and described the scene as "crazy".

"It kicked off about one o'clock in the morning, everyone was watching the bonfire, and the next thing a lot of smoke was coming from the roofs beside it," he said.

media captionShankill blaze: Firefighters tackle fire at houses in Belfast

"The roofs started smouldering and one of them caved in at about five-past-one.

"People were starting to get moved from their houses - a man climbed through his living room window to get out, it was crazy.

image captionTwo neighbouring houses were gutted by the fire, while another was badly damaged

"When we left at about a quarter-to-two it looked like the incident was under control.

"Two firemen climbed up the houses and put ladders to the side to get a better angle to get the hoses out to fight the fire."

image copyrightPA
image captionHundreds of people gathered to watch the lighting of the bonfire at Hopewell Square

Bonfires are traditionally lit in many loyalist areas of Northern Ireland on the 'eleventh night' - the eve of the Twelfth of July.

The fires mark William of Orange's victory over King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and supporters say they are an important part of their culture.

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionSome people watched the bonfires across Belfast from the top of Black Mountain

The fire service said it had attended bonfire related incidents in Portadown in County Armagh, Ballyhalbert, Bangor, Banbridge and Rathfriland in County Down, Dungannon in County Tyrone and Coleraine, Londonderry and Limavady in County Londonderry.

Earlier on Monday evening, fire crews moved in to dampen buildings next to a bonfire at Cluan Place in east Belfast.

Environmental concerns have been raised about the burning of tyres at several locations where hundreds have appeared.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency said it has issued five £300 fines over dumping at bonfires within the past two months.

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