'It looked like Grenfell' - Shocked Belfast tower block residents' anger at not hearing fire alarms before blaze
Some residents only found out there was a fire when neighbours knocked on doors
Terrified residents of a Dunmurry tower block said they feared they were facing a Grenfell Tower-type tragedy after a fire broke out on the 14-storey building's ninth floor.
The blaze, which is believed to have been caused accidentally by a toaster, burst through the windows on two sides of Coolmoyne House and led to the evacuation of around 100 tenants from 56 flats.
Fire crews arrived on the scene within five minutes of receiving the emergency call at 5.32pm, and the blaze was extinguished by 6.10pm.
The man whose flat caught alight was rescued by firefighters, and the Ambulance Service said paramedics had tended to four patients.
A man and a woman were in a stable condition in Lagan Valley Hospital last night.
Residents were evacuated to the nearby Mosside Hall.
Shocked residents claimed they heard no fire alarms in the building, which houses a mixture of Housing Executive and private tenants, and said that many people had only realised a fire was raging after neighbours knocked on their doors.
Fifth floor resident Kelly Ritchie (39) told how her 71-year-old mother Sarah, a resident on the seventh floor, came to the aid of an 80-year-old neighbour who had been unaware of the danger.
"There were no alarms. Mum just happened to look out and saw terrible smoke," she said.
"She went to get the wee woman in her 80s who lives next door. She couldn't get down the stairs so they had to use the lift to get her out, even though you're not supposed to.
"It looked like Grenfell and we were afraid it was going to go up in the same way. I have three kids and they were in tears.
"I'm in shock but I'm also angry. I pay a £50 a month service charge and there were no audible communal fire alarms. Even if an alarm went off in the flat where the fire happened, it couldn't have been heard by everyone, and if you were on the other side of the building you couldn't have seen the smoke either. It's a disgrace."
Julie-Ann Jackson of Seymour Hill and Conway Residents' Association also said that none of the residents she had spoken to had heard a communal fire alarm going off.
"There are about 100 residents, many of whom are elderly, and a lot of people made their own way out," she said.
"The fire was fierce. The flames were pumping out the side of the ninth floor and seemed to be coming up to the 10th and 11th floors.
"It was scary. Many people have just been left in shock. It was like our worst nightmare of experiencing a fire like Grenfell was coming true.
"The Housing Executive did carry out checks after Grenfell and we assume they were OK, but residents have been left angry and in shock. There are a lot of questions left to answer over the fire alarms.
"If it wasn't for the swift reaction of the firefighters and the actions of residents, lives could have been lost."
Jade Beattie, whose parents Jane (57) and John (63) live on the fourth floor, also said the fact that fire alarms had not sounded in communal areas was "a disgrace".
"There are a lot of elderly and disabled people in those flats who would find it difficult to evacuate anyway, but if there isn't even an alarm sounding to alert them, then what chance do they have?" she asked.
"My mum was on her own and another resident came and alerted her, otherwise she wouldn't have known."
William Coburn (80), who lives on the 13th floor, said he only realised there was a problem when he saw the lights of the emergency services below.
"I just saw the lights of the Fire Service and I made my own way to the stairs and started walking down. I didn't know what was going on," he said.
Lagan Valley Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said it was "only by the grace of God" that fatalities had been avoided, and he paid tribute to the response of the emergency services.
Assembly Member Edwin Poots said his overriding emotion was one of relief.
"It's one of huge relief that this isn't another Grenfell disaster," he said.
He said residents had endured a "hugely traumatic" experience.
"The big concern for a lot of the residents is that smoke alarms did not go off throughout the building, so many residents were in a burning building and didn't realise it," he said.
A total of 11 fire appliances, including an aerial appliance, and 55 firefighters attended the incident. NI Fire and Rescue Service Group Commander Geoff Somerville said that crews had been met with a "well-developed" fire on arrival.
He added that it was "only because of the courageous actions" of firefighters that there had been no loss of life.
Mr Somerville said the fire alarm system had operated as designed, with the alarms inside the man's flat sounding, and a soundless alarm system in the communal area to open air vents also activating. He said alarms in other flats should only have sounded if they detected smoke.
"We had four members of staff in breathing apparatus enter the building to extinguish the fire, and it was successfully extinguished," he said. "No cladding was affected, and the fire was confined to the flat of origin.
"These types of buildings are not required to have a communal alarm. Smoke detectors in the flat did work and alerted the gentleman. The fire alarm system worked as expected.
"The good news is there is no similarity to Grenfell. This is a fire that we would expect to face in a high-rise premises and it was safely brought to a conclusion within operating procedures."
Last night, a NIFRS spokesperson said that crews remained on the scene dealing with the incident, the cause of which was "currently under investigation".
They also confirmed that the incident did not provide any further risk to the public.
A Housing Executive spokesperson said: "Our immediate concern is with the residents at Coolmoyne House. Staff have been on site following the fire in a flat this evening and are on hand to offer emergency accommodation to any resident who requires it.
"The cause of the fire is now under investigation by the NIFRS and we will be co-operating with them fully."