Saturday 18 November 2017

Belfast Bonfires: Dozens of houses boarded up as residents fear street will go up in flames

Claire Cromie

Northern Ireland's Housing Executive is boarding up windows in a Belfast street where residents are terrified their homes will go up in flames when a massive bonfire is lit.

Some families in Chobham Street, off Ravenscroft Avenue, have already moved out and those who remain say they are "petrified" for their own safety and that of their homes.

Pictures have emerged today showing wooden boards being placed over residents' windows by property maintenance contractors CFM (Combined Facilities Management), which undertakes work for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Residents said the Fire Service had warned that houses in the street were in danger of catching alight on the eleventh night on Saturday.

There are already 1,700 pallets on the bonfire which has a core of tyres down the middle, and hundreds more pallets remain to be added, which will make it even bigger.

The bonfire is located on waste ground at the Comber Greenway, just 30 feet from houses in Chobham Street.

A Housing Executive spokesperson said: “We are assisting the Department for Regional Development (DRD) in Chobham Street by boarding up the largely private houses on their behalf to assist residents during this difficult time.

"Approximately 52 houses in the area will be boarded up, one of which is owned by the Housing Executive.

"The Housing Executive’s contractors are undertaking the work today (10 July). DRD will recompense the Housing Executive for the cost of this work.”

Sources said that officials didn't want to intervene to reduce the size of the bonfire because they feared that would lead to a riot.

One homeowner said: "Nobody is willing to take action. Rather than act now to prevent disaster, their attitude seems to be that they'll just mop up the mess after the eleventh night."

Insurance companies have told some homeowners that, because of the presence of combustible material so nearby, they won't accept liability if the properties are destroyed or damaged by fire.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has been told by some homeowners that his department will be held legally liable if their properties catch fire.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle called on Mr Kennedy to take urgent action.

“We are working with people to help them celebrate culture and tradition in a positive manner but the size and location of this particular bonfire now poses a serious risk to residents, a community centre and a dedicated cycle and walkway," he said.

“It is unacceptable in 2015 that a government department has allowed this bonfire to progress to the stage, where residents are living in fear for the safety of their homes. The Minister for Regional Development must take action to make the area safe and show greater leadership on this issue.”

Belfast Telegraph

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