Northern Ireland

Shankill bonfire: Church leader calls on organisers to rethink location

Fire-damaged houses at Hopewell Square in Belfast's Shankill area Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The fires started on the roofs of the houses, leaving three of them badly damaged

A church leader in west Belfast has said bonfire organisers will have to rethink plans for future bonfires after two terraced homes were gutted during an eleventh night bonfire.

A third house was damaged.

It is thought the fires at Hopewell Square in the Shankill area may have been caused by burning embers being blown through the air by the wind.

Image caption The ceilings of two of the houses collapsed during the fires

Pastor Jack McKee said there was understandable anger with the organisers.

"There's a bit of anger directed at them in so far as there was no preparation for that type of event happening," he said.

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

"There was no expectation that it would happen.

"Anger is directed a little bit at the fire authorities because it was felt that they, knowing the size of the fire, knowing it was close to the homes, should have been here and doused the houses before the fire even went up."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The bonfire in the Shankill area was one of dozens set alight in Belfast on Monday night

In response, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) rejected the claims and said its crews had visited the bonfire in Hopewell Square prior to the eleventh night.

"NIFRS crews engaged with bonfire builders, communicating our key bonfire safety messages and agreeing a safe route to the bonfire if NIFRS resources were required to attend any incident at the location," a statement said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some bystanders at the Shankill bonfire took shelter from embers blown from the bonfire

"NIFRS policy is not to deploy or commit operational resources to bonfire locations prior to ignition or before a 999 emergency call has been received by NIFRS regional call centre (RCC).

Image copyright PA
Image caption Firefighters said they believe the fires were caused by burning embers carried through the air by wind

"NIFRS RCC received multiple 999 emergency calls to a fire in the roof of a terrace house at Hopewell Square at 00.54hrs, appliances were mobile to the incident at 00.55hrs with appliances in attendance at 01.01hrs.

"Our initial fire investigation would indicate the probable cause of the fire to be caused by flying embers from the bonfire rather than radiated heat from the bonfire itself."

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