Masked contractors under police guard as they remove wood from bonfire sites

A smoking bonfire in east Belfast. Pic: Rebecca Black/PA Wire

Riot police have escorted masked contractors as they removed wood from two contentious loyalist bonfire sites in Belfast.

Authorities moved in at two sites in the east of the city amid fears of fire damage to homes.

The Bloomfield Walkway and Cluan Place bonfires were among hundreds across the North due to be burned by loyalists later tonight as part of traditional "Eleventh night" celebrations to mark the 1690 victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne.

Contractors with faces hidden removed excess wood from the Bloomfield Walkway site hours after a towering bonfire on the site was set alight prematurely.

The structure was set on fire amid a tense overnight stand-off between police and loyalist youths after a High Court judge ordered that it be dramatically reduced in size.

Later on Wednesday workmen moved in to remove a huge bonfire constructed adjacent to a main road at nearby Cluan Place.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said: "The operations at Bloomfield Walk and Cluan Place are necessary to protect nearby buildings and residents who live in the areas."

Officers said rumours that wood would be removed at other sites were unfounded.

The early ignition at Bloomfield happened after the judge's decision at Belfast High Court on Tuesday evening.

The bonfire has caused controversy in recent years due to its proximity to houses.

On Tuesday morning, Belfast City Council urged the bonfire builders to remove excess material, saying it had been measured and it was too tall.

The council applied to Belfast High Court for an injunction to force the Department for Infrastructure, which owns the land the bonfire is built on, to reduce the height of the pyre.

Mrs Justice Keegan directed the department to take immediate steps amid claims the controversial 80 pallet-high construction poses a serious threat to surrounding homes.

PSNI chief constable George Hamilton tweeted: "Unfortunate display of reckless behaviour Bloomfield Walkway this morning - attacking Police & damaging homes of local residents. So-called loyalist expressing their culture and tradition - not reflective of vast majority of great people in East Belfast."

In 2015 more than 50 homes close to the Walkway bonfire were boarded up to protect them from the heat generated when it was lit.

The site of the bonfire had been moved in the last two years amid community concern about its proximity to houses.


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