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Bonfire material stored in back gardens being moved amid blaze fears

Wooden pallets stacked in the back gardens of homes in the Highfield estate in Belfast

DOZENS of pallets being stored in gardens ahead of an Eleventh Night bonfire in Belfast were due to be taken away last night.

The material was being moved amid fears of a repeat of a blaze that damaged a row of houses close to another bonfire in the city last year.

The pallets were neatly stacked in the back gardens of at least two properties in the Highcairn Drive area, close to the West Circular Road.

Householders would be unable to use the gardens given the amount of material being stored.

However, the wood was due to be moved last night because of the risk of fire.

A row of terraced houses was set alight close to a huge loyalist bonfire in the lower Shankill area last year.

Two homes adjacent to the pyre at Hopewell Square were gutted and another damaged when embers were blown onto roofs.

Several residents had to be rescued, with a pensioner and a young family left homeless by the terrifying ordeal.

The bill for repairing the Housing Executive properties was £90,000 and £40,000 was also allocated for a community garden to discourage construction of the annual pyre.

In 2015, dozens of homes at Chobham Street in east Belfast also had to be boarded up and families moved to protect them from a towering Eleventh Night bonfire just yards away.

Firefighters also had to spray foam over houses and businesses in the area last year, while playpark equipment was removed to prevent damage.

DUP councillor Frank McCoubrey last night said he had met with those responsible for the bonfire close to the properties in Highcairn Drive.

He confirmed that safety concerns following last year's blaze in Hopewell Square were raised.

"I was alerted yesterday - obviously people are concerned given what happened in the lower Shankill last year," he said.

"I worked with the Housing Executive and spoke to those responsible for the bonfires and was told the pallets would be removed from the gardens by today.

"Their main aim in storing them in gardens was to keep the area tidy and off the green field site. They were just stacked away to avoid messing up the area.

"Everyone is concerned with the health and safety of those living in the area, given in particular what has happened last year.

"They were fully co-operative and assured me it would be done today."

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