Eleventh night bonfires spark safety alert

There were calls today for a renewed focus on safety around Eleventh night bonfires after a blaze destroyed a house in Co Down.

Police said it is believed the fire in Newtownards started at a makeshift hut next to a bonfire, with the flames spreading to oil tanks and a car, before sparking the damage to nearby homes.

The owners of the building destroyed in the fire are believed to be on holiday and now face the prospect of returning to find their home in ruins.

DUP Assembly member for the area Jonathan Bell extended his sympathy to the family, and while he defended the role of traditional bonfires as part of the wider July 12 celebrations by the loyal orders, he said a 'safety first' motto must be observed.

Three other houses in the East Mount area were damaged in the fire which police believe took hold between 3am and 6.30am. While the occupants of the buildings escaped unhurt, a firefighter was injured tackling the blaze.

Mr Bell said: "The Fire Service need to be praised because of their actions, or we could have been dealing with even more damage than the disaster that there has been."

It is understood that the annual bonfire had previously been based on a green area near the homes, but had been placed too close to the buildings.

The Fire Service said the quick actions of its crew prevented other homes from being destroyed.

Mr Bell said local councils had encouraged efforts to mark the Eleventh night more safely. And while he defended the bonfire tradition, he said safety must be a priority.

The DUP representative said the local community was devastated for the family affected by the blaze, who he said would have lost a lifetime of memories.

"It's not only the loss of a home, it's the loss of all your memories, your photographs and all the things of sentimental value are all gone," he said.

"All our thoughts are with them."

He added: "I am a member of the Orange tradition...but it is vital that there is a safety first approach.

"We have to look again at this and learn the lessons."

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