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Residents 'lucky to be alive' after fire tears through flats

Brendan Hughes

SHOCKED residents say they feel lucky to be alive after a "terrifying" fire tore through a block of flats in east Belfast. Fire crews tackled the blaze at Parklands, Knocknagoney, shortly before 2.45am yesterday.

Three people were rescued and 14 others evacuated following the fire in the stairwell and storeroom on the top floor of the two-storey complex.

Two men and a woman were treated at the scene for small burns and smoke inhalation.

A woman received treatment in hospital for injuries that were not thought to be serious.

Melanie Forsyth (35) was left trapped on the balcony outside her second-floor flat for 20 minutes as firefighters battled the blaze.

"There were others on the balcony and we were all panicking. It was really terrifying," she said.

"There were thick clouds of black smoke and I didn't know which way to go."

Ms Forsyth, who works at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said lives could have been lost if a new central fire alarm had not been fitted six months earlier.

"If they hadn't installed that fire alarm it could have been devastating," she said.

"I'm thanking my lucky stars that we are here to tell the tale."

The fire caused heavy smoke and heat damage along a corridor outside the flats, but the insides of the homes escaped the blaze.

Ms Forsyth, who is originally from Stranraer in Scotland but has lived in the flats for two years, said the stairwell was "completely gutted".

The Fire Service said the blaze was "well-developed" when crews arrived and several residents were trapped on balconies.

Assistant group commander Andy Woods said there was a "scene of panic" among residents.

"We were able to use our procedures and training to get in, put the fire out as quickly as possible and reach the residents," he said.

Seven fire appliances and a command support unit attended the blaze.

Police also attended the scene and are investigating the cause of the fire.

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