Fire uncovers deeper issues

FIREFIGHTERS led five people to safety following a malicious fire at an apartment block in Victoria Street.

The fire has uncovered a number of deeper issues in the area, according to one resident.

The blaze in the former Johnston & Allen premises started shortly after 4pm last Wednesday (December 14).

Fire crews smashed the side panel of the front door to gain entry and extinguished the fire, which was started deliberately in the bin storage area on the ground floor. The incident was handed over to the PSNI for investigation.

There are 18 flats in the three storey building, though many of them lie vacant. There were five residents in their apartments at the time of the fire and they were led to safety by firefighters.

Damien Doran, a resident in the apartment block, was the man who made the 999 call.

He said: “The fire alarms are always being set off so you learn to ignore them. I don’t know what it was that made me check this time. When I went out into the corridor I was hit up the face with this big waft of smoke.”

Mr Doran, who has been living in the apartments on Victoria Street for around a year, said the fire serves to illustrate the problem with antisocial behaviour in the area as well as poor maintenance of the building.

The ‘MAIL’ observed a large amount of rubbish at the back of the premises where the fire was started. Mr Doran said the rubbish had accumulated because there weren’t enough bins.

The lift which serviced the building had out of service for some time and there were several instances of graffiti on the walls.

Mr Doran said the building had once been immaculate, but had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair due to problem tenants and inaction on behalf of the previous owners in terms of upkeep.

Speaking more generally, Mr Doran said drug dealers were the scourge of the area and called upon the police to get to grips with the problem.

The asking price for 11 of the apartments within Johnston & Allen House and one commercial unit is £250,000. Donnelly Dickson are the estate agents for the sale and, having inherited the properties through receivership, they have also become the block management company of the complex.

The estate agents say they are doing what is required to maintain Johnston & Allen House, but said investment from buyers was necessary to get the best out of the premises following serious issues with previous management companies and developers.