Motorbike set on fire in hallway of north Belfast flats, trapping residents in their homes
FIREFIGHTERS have been praised for their rapid response to a north Belfast blaze which saw seven residents having to be rescued.
The fire at a block of eight flats on the Ardoyne Road broke out at around 5.20am yesterday.
Occupants living in the two storey building were trapped inside their flats due to smoke and had to be rescued by firefighters wearing breathing apparatus and using ladders.
A number of those rescued from the fire - started when a motorbike parked in a communal hallway was set alight - had to be treated for the effects of smoke inhalation.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) said damage was caused to the communal hallway of the building - which is owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive - and to the doors of the flats.
"The occupants were alerted early, by smoke alarms actuating in the hallway," he said.
"NIFRS Control staff reassured callers and provided lifesaving advice to those trapped until fire crews arrived on scene.
"Thankfully due to working smoke alarms, the advice given by controls staff and the swift actions of firefighters all occupants have now been safely rescued from the flats".
A Housing Executive spokesman said staff and contractors had been on-site at the building yesterday "assessing damage and identifying the immediate needs of tenants".
"We would like to express our thanks to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service for its prompt and professional response," he said.
DUP assembly member William Humphrey said it was a "great relief" that no-one was seriously injured.
"I must commend the firefighters who responded rapidly to the alert and who assisted residents to escape," he said.
"Clearly this fire could have had very serious consequences, particularly at such an early hour of the morning. We could have been faced with deaths or serious injuries had it spread.
"Fire damage appears to have been limited to the hallway. The Housing Executive has said that fire doors at the front of each flat were not breached and we are told that residents are not having to move out".
He added: "However, residents were clearly at great risk. I urge anyone who can assist the police investigation into this fire to pass on whatever information they have.
"I will continue to monitor the progress of the police investigation and will be meeting again with Housing Executive managers to review any matters arising from this perilous incident".
Police have appealed for information about the fire, which is being treated as "malicious".