Firefighters see 'significant decrease' in number of bonfire calls at start of Twelfth of July festivities

Firefighters saw a "significant decrease" in the number of emergency calls due to loyalist bonfires in Northern Ireland at the start of the Twelfth of July festivities.

Large crowds gathered in Belfast city centre to watch an enormous pyre of wooden pallets set ablaze and emit a face-blistering heat to mark the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season.

Fireworks and dance music accompanied the flames. Some people sported union flag regalia. Others sang traditional songs.

The blaze off the Sandy Row was adorned with Irish flags and a Sinn Fein poster. Celtic and Palestine flags were also set alight.

Scores of people gathered on Cavehill to watch the fires from high above Belfast.

Firefighters see 'significant decrease' in number of bonfire calls at start of Twelfth of July festivities

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service noted a "significant decrease" in activity compared to this time last year.

Between 6 and 11pm, 12-bonfire-related incidents were recorded.

On Thursday a stand-off over a contentious bonfire in Belfast ended after councillors backed down over plans to demolish it.

Belfast City Council abandoned an attempt to remove the structure, which has been built in a leisure centre car park, after its hired private contractor pulled out of the job following the appearance of sinister graffiti threats close to the site purporting to identify the company.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had warned the council that sending in contractors, escorted by its officers, could have prompted serious disorder orchestrated by the East Belfast grouping of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), with the risk of gun violence.

Firefighters see 'significant decrease' in number of bonfire calls at start of Twelfth of July festivities

A bonfire lit by friends of murdered loyalist community worker Ian Ogle had a Nazi flag on top of it.

It was a reference to those his family believe assaulted and killed him in January.

Firemen used hoses to prevent surrounding buildings from catching fire.

While most fires are lit without major incident, a number continue to prove contentious, with the authorities having taken action in recent years on structures deemed unsafe.

The bonfire in the Avoniel Leisure Centre car park has proved controversial this year.

Without a contractor willing to do the work, councillors acknowledged on Thursday that their plan to demolish it had to be axed.

They have instead urged police to pursue bonfire builders for trespassing on the Avoniel site.

Councillors, who have asked police to investigate how the names of contractors were leaked from confidential deliberations, have also agreed to form working group to see how to handle the bonfire issue in coming years.

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