Chief: child arsonists are at ‘serious risk’

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CHILD arsonists who destroyed at least 12 flats in Craigavon at the weekend are putting themselves ‘at serious risk’.

Top fire chief Victor Spence appealed to the youths to stop playing with fire after the marathon campaign of arson.

In the latest attack seven fire crews spent almost ten hours tackling various seats of fire in four second floor flats at the derelict complex.

The incident began at around 7.25pm on Tuesday night and the crews eventually left at around 5.03am on Wednesday morning.

District Commander Spence was speaking after around 30 of his fire fighters spent the weekend at the derelict flats in Aldervale.

The first fire was started at around 6pm on Saturday night at an unoccupied flat on the ground floor.

On Sunday night the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) were again called to the same block of flats to tackle a blaze in two flats on the second floor.

Hours later at 12.30am on Monday morning fire fighters fought for almost six hours to control an inferno raging through five more flats in the complex.

It took 30 fire fighters with five fire appliances including four pumping appliances and a high reach appliance to bring the blaze under control.

No one was injured in the blaze.

District Commander Spence said a number of youths and teenagers were spotted in the area during all of the arson attacks.

Eyewitnesses also said youths were also stoning windows at the time.

District Commander Spence says he believes the same young people were responsible for starting the blaze.

He described the fire as “very serious.”

He said children might find starting fires “a game” - but it poses a “serious risk” to lives.

“There were a number of young children and teenagers playing in the flats and we would appeal to parents to make sure you know where your kids are,” said the fire chief.

“If they were playing in the flats when the fire breaks out, they may be trapped and we may not know they are there,” he said.

He explained there were hand rails missing from stairwells and leads and wires hanging loose.

He said it was very dangerous and people could fall or get tangled in the wires and leads.

The fire chief said the crews were able to bring all the blazes under control and stop the fire spreading to neighbouring buildings.

Eight flats in total were destroyed in the attacks and the roof had collapsed during the blaze. There was also considerable water damage to the building.

District Commander Spence said the Housing Executive and police were working to erect steel shutters to stop people getting entry to the building.

He added that, while all the appliances were tackling these blazes, fire cover would have been reduced, however, the Fire Service HQ at Lisburn was put on standby.

Sinn Fein Councillor Mark O’Dowd condemned the arsonists.

He said: “This block of the Aldervale Flats is currently the subject of negotiations with a private developer interested in redeveloping the properties. The ongoing economic recession has created a demand for affordable single housing and the redevelopment work would be a major boast for the Building construction industry.

“These vandals have put this at risk.”

The Sinn Féin Councillor praised the Fire Service personnel for their dedication. “The Fire and Rescue Service continued to do their job and succeeded in bringing the blaze under control.

“Their actions are a sharp contrast to those of the arsonists who showed no concern for their community or for those in need of affordable housing.”

Mr O’Dowd revealed that he had been in contact with the Housing Executive as recently as last week about the future plans for these flats.

He said: “Along with my colleague Cllr Tommy O’Connor I will continue to monitor the future plans for Aldervale and we will be pressing for a definitive decision on the future of the complex.

“In the meantime I have contacted the Executive to ensure that the empty block is properly secured in order to prevent further arson and the potential for a tragedy.”