13 rescued from fire in block of flats

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Media captionRichard Meenan, whose son had to be taken down a fire service ladder, said the events were traumatising

The father of a one-year-old boy, rescued after a suspected arson attack in Derry, has said the family is "lucky to be alive".

The fire broke out in a communal stairwell at a block of six flats in the Carnhill area of Derry on Friday.

Four fire appliances attended the fire just after 06:30 GMT when 13 people in total were rescued.

Trevor Ferguson, area commander, said: "It's not confirmed, but the fire could have been deliberate."

He added: "Crews from Northland and Crescent Link stations attended and rescued a family of two adults and a child from one of the first floor windows and an adult male from another first floor window.

"We assisted five other people down through the stairs and four people rescued themselves. This was a very complex operation.

"I'd like to pay tribute to the fire officers. Things could have been a lot worse. The small child was around one-year-old so you can only imagine how traumatising it was.

'Can't see or breathe'

Image caption Fire service area commander Trevor Ferguson suspects the fire was deliberate

"We will be carrying out an investigation with the PSNI but it looks to us like the fire could have been deliberate."

Richard Meenan, whose one-year-old son had to be taken down a fire service ladder, said the events were traumatising.

"My girlfriend heard one of the alarms going off. We couldn't get out the front door because of black smoke.

"It was really frightening and I just wanted to make sure my son got out. He had to climb down a ladder and he was kind of laughing because he didn't fully understand what was going on.

"You're kind of backed into a corner with nothing to do until someone comes to help you.

"We are lucky to be alive."

Lawrence Cooke, one of those rescued, said: "I initially thought there was a problem inside my own flat. I opened the door and walked out onto the stairwell and there was so much smoke.

"I thought if I can't see or breathe, how was I going to get out.

"I went to one of the windows and reached out and thumped the window below my flat. The man below then did the same to another flat.

"I was possibly the first to raise the alarm.

"The firemen arrived at my door with breathing apparatus. I did think people were not going to make it out.

"If it is true that this fire was started deliberately then I would be very angry and upset. I would be concerned that something like this would happen again."