Residents’ terror as arsonist sets fire to flat complex

By Gemma Burns

Residents living in a North Belfast block of flats say they could have been killed after an arsonist set fire to the building in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Five people were led to safety by fire fighters after a hallway was set alight in the Skegoneill Avenue flats at around 3.30am on Sunday morning. Three fire engines were brought out to fight the blaze and six people had to be treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.

Cliodhna Corbett, who lives in the flats with her 23 month old son Cayden and partner Jonny Macken said her partner had to help residents evacuate.

“We were getting ready for bed when someone came to the door and said he could smell smoke,” she said,

“We looked out and all the hallways were filled with smoke, my partner ran to all the doors and was banging on them and shouting to get people out. He had to kick a few doors in to get to people. It was awful.

“It is lucky no one was killed because the place just filled up with smoke really quickly.”

Local resident Isobel Glenn said an 85-year-old woman who lives on the top floor was too frail to escape.

“There’s an elderly lady I look out for and she wasn’t even able to get down the stairs,” she sad.

“She had to just hide in her flat and luckily was ok. Between the antisocial behaviour at the flats and now this fire it is just terrible here.”

Local community worker Sean Montgomery said residents in the flats are unhappy because their communal front door has been broken for a number of months and there are also no smoke alarms on the landings.

“The front door of the flats has been broken for over four months and is yet to be fixed, there are also no smoke alarms either,” he said.

“It is time the Housing Executive stepped up to their obligations and fixed what is wrong with the flats to prevent something like this happening again. Lives could have very easily been lost here.”

A spokesman for the PSNI confirmed they are treating the fire as arson and asked anyone with information to contact them.

A Housing Executive spokesman said the communal door to these flats has been the subject of repeated vandalism and has been repaired by the Housing Executive on numerous occasions. “We will continue to action such repairs when we become aware of them. We are also considering re-hanging the door to open outwards, which has proved successful in improving security in a neighbouring block.”

He added there are smoke alarms in the flats and they might consider alarms on the landings in the future and that there are new windows and heating systems planned for the flats.

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