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Threat from towering bonfires is a serious concern

Bonfires are not just a health and safety issue in loyalist areas ahead of the Eleventh Night but also in nationalist districts as we approach the anniversary of the introduction of internment.

Over many years there has been an effort in north and west Belfast in particular to shift the focus to community events and festivals which are much more positive ways of marking what was a turbulent period in our recent history.

However, a minority seems determined to build bonfires despite the wishes of the local community who have understandable concerns about safety as well as the anti-social behaviour associated with the pyres.

As with the loyalist bonfires, these burning structures place an unacceptable burden on the fire service which has to deal with the fires and ensure the safety of people and property.

This is far from an idle concern as we witnessed in Sandy Row where firefighters had to work hard to prevent an Eleventh Night bonfire spreading to an apartment block, much to the alarm of residents who were forced to flee heat intense enough to crack windows.

That near-disaster along with the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in London is very much to the forefront of people's minds in the New Lodge area where a internment anniversary bonfire is being built close to high-rise flats as well as a day nursery and houses.

Unlike Sandy Row, this obvious danger is being acted upon with local political representatives and statutory agencies actively removing pallets.

It was also striking that police moved in to confiscate pallets believed to be for an anti-internment bonfire in the Ormeau Road area on Sunday.

This pro-active approach is what is needed when unlawful or dangerous bonfire building is taking place in any area.

We simply cannot have a repeat of the Sandy Row experience which came a year after homes were badly damaged as the result of a bonfire in the lower Shankill.

Tragedy has so far been averted but unionist politicians in particular need to wake up to the threat posed by mammoth fires built close to property.

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