HOUSING chiefs believe more than a dozen properties are at risk of serious fire damage if a July 11 bonfire on a Co Antrim housing estate goes ahead as planned.
The Housing Executive made the conclusion in a report following a meeting with a senior Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) officer at the Forthill Drive bonfire site in Ballyduff, Newtownabbey last week.
The unofficial report warns that properties in the immediate vicinity of the bonfire are at serious risk from the extreme heat that the massive pyre of burning pallets and tyres will generate.
And it also warns that other homes in the surrounding area could sustain more minor damage.
The document says there are “major concerns” that:
* an oil tank in at least one property could rupture due to the heat;
* that fences and sheds could catch fire;
* and that guttering, fascias and window frames at some properties could melt or even ignite.
Pointing out that the bonfire is leaning towards one particular property on Forthill Drive and could collapse towards the row of terrace houses, it says that there are “concerns to all properties that fire might get into roof areas and spread to other properties.”
The report, based on notes taken during a meeting between a Housing Executive warden and the Fire Safety Officer, also states that the Army Cadet Force hut – the building closest to the bonfire site – is due to be removed before the annual July 11 festivities, meaning that the neighbouring Ballyduff Gospel Hall will have no shielding and could sustain heat damage to its windows and guttering.
The report claims that the NIFRS is hoping to have an appliance in place to spray foam on properties within the “danger area” in the vicinity of the bonfire, but warns that this may not be possible due to “emergency commitments”.
More than a dozen residents of Ballyduff and nearby Ravelston confronted councillors outside the chamber at Mossley Mill after Monday night’s full council meeting.
They called on them to take action to ensure the safety of residents and their homes.
The angry householders claim no-one is listening to their concerns, asked why the massive bonfire, which has been dubbed “the beast”, has been allowed to be built so close to people’s homes, and why the law on burning tyres isn’t being enforced by the authorities.
“People are in danger of losing their homes,” said one woman.
“No-one is saying they don’t want a bonfire, but it’s too close to people’s houses – it’s a threat to properties and people’s lives.
“Why is no-one standing up for us? Why are these guys allowed to do what they want and no-one will stand up to them even though they are breaking the law? Is someone going to have to lose their life before something is done?”
Another woman added: “On their Facebook page the bonfire organisers keep saying that this is for the community, but it can’t be for the community as they are not listening to the people who live in the community – the people whose homes and lives are at risk.
“Some of these residents have lived in their homes for more than 40 years and they’ve never faced anything like this before. These people (the bonfire organisers) are going against their own community.”
The angry residents say they are frustrated by the lack of direct action by the council, the Housing Executive, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the PSNI, claim that the bonfire organisers turned down the offer of an alternative site in a field near the estate – something the bonfire builders deny.
And they say that some people who’ve spoken out against the siting of the bonfire have been intimidated by paramilitaries.
“We’re all proud of our culture and our heritage and we’re all proud to come from Ballyduff, but the bonfire, where it is at the minute, is unsafe and unsuitable.
“We’re not against them having a bonfire, but it has to be in an area that’s safe. The 11th night needs to be safe and all the community needs to be able to enjoy it,” another resident concluded.
Residents, councillors, council officers and representatives of agencies such as the NIFRS and the Housing Executive were expected to meet with the bonfire builders in Ballyduff Community Centre to discuss what can be done to ensure the safety of people’s homes.
Meanwhile, the NIFRS has stressed that it does not have any enforcement powers in relation to the size or location of bonfires, but did say that officers have visited the Ballyduff site on a number of occasions in recent weeks to offer safety advice.
A spokesman for the Housing Executive added: “The Housing Executive shares the concerns residents have with regard to the location and safety of this bonfire.
“The local district office will continue to work with the Fire and Rescue Service, the PSNI and local residents with a view to protecting local property.
“The Housing Executive will be meeting those residents who live close to the bonfire to set out measures to protect their homes from any possible damage.”