Sunday 08 September 2019 09:45:18 AM

Downpatrick Saul Street Fire Came Close To Claiming LIves
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An arson attack in flats in Saul Street in Downpatrick almost ended in at least one fatality.

Around 2.00am on Friday morning, someone took a wheelie bin from behind McLaughlin Building on the Saul Road and took it through the front door and set it alight adjacent to a ground floor flat. Once the blaze took hold, four fire crews from Downpatrick and Ballynahinch responded to tackle the incident.

From the tenants rescued from the fire, three of the nine residents were taken to the A&E in Belfast for treatment because of smoke inhalation. The youngest was a baby of four months old and was treated at the Ulster Hospital and the child is now with relatives.  The other residents were treated for smoke inhalation by medics once they came out of the building.

Michael Graham, Michael McKinney, and Ciaran McPoland, three residents of McLaughlin Builing forced out of their homes due to a suspected arson attack in Downpatrick's Saul Road.

Michael Graham, Michael McKinney, and Ciaran McPoland, three residents of McLaughlin Builing forced out of their homes due to a suspected arson attack in Downpatrick’s Saul Road.

Some of those living in the building were accommodated in a hotel in Ballynahinch.

Resident Michael McKinney, where the wheelie bin at the front door of his ground floor flat was set alight, said to Down News: “I was sleeping around 1.30am onwards. I didn’t hear anyone doing this.

Another resident Michael Graham said: “The fire must have blown Michael McKinney’s door off. And the smoke poured in to his flat. The firemen looked thropugh his window with torches and saw him lying on the floor unconscious. They they entered through the front door area and took him out. He needed four hours of treatment by medics as be was badly affected by smoke. This could easily have been fatal.”

Arlene McDowell, a nearby neighbour and friend of Michael McKinney, added: “Michael has a serious health issue and this certainly will not be good for him. We were lucky that the Fire Service got here so quickly.”

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) said: “This incident took place at a block of 6 tenanted flats in Saul Street, Downpatrick. Following a police investigation the Housing Executive then gained access to the flats on Friday afternoon.

“Although there is severe smoke damage to the whole block, the main damage is on the ground floor. Temporary accommodation has been provided to some tenants and others are staying with family. One tenant has terminated his tenancy.

There are strong suspicions that the fire was started deliberately. Police are investigating the matter.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) who visited the Saul Street, Downpatrick Apartment Block where a fire took place earlier this morning has talked to some of the residents of the block and urged the Housing Executive to ensure that the flats are made habitable at a very early opportunity so that residents can return to their homes.

 “I was very saddened to learn this morning about the fire earlier this morning at 91 Saul Street, Downpatrick.  I then visited the scene of the fire, met and talked to some of the residents of 91 Saul Street (McLaughlin House), Downptrick where the fire took place.   I have talked to some of the residents at the scene this morning  – young men who had been out of their flats from an early hour this morning; who were cold and frightened; elderly people who have been accommodated elsewhere.   A young family with a baby were also evacuated.

“It is now important that the Housing Executive and the Police Service give priority to the early re-housing of these residents of this Apartment Block by ensuring that repairs are carried out as quickly as possible.

“I have spoken to the PSNI and to the Housing Executive and urged them to ensure that the damage is rectified and that the residents will be able to return to their properties at a very early opportunity.

“I will continue to pursue this issue until the damage to the flats is rectified and the residents are able to return to their homes at 91 Saul Street, Downpatrick”.

Canon Sean Rogan who was at the scene of the arson attack said: “I’m here today to lend my support to those who have suffered on account of the fire. This is a reflection on our society as a whole. There has just been a loss of control. On the one hand we have the call for liberty which means the freedom to do as we wish, and on the other hand there is the situation where this freedom carries important responsibilities. It just seems that some people don’t have respect for life.  Our hearts and prayers are with those involved and the residents who have suffered so much here.”

Chris Hazzard MLA (Sinn Féin) has described last night’s arson attack in Downpatrick as “crazy” and has praised the ‘life saving’ response of the emergency services.

Speaking at the scene of the attack at McLaughlin House in Saul Street, the local MLA said: “We are extremely fortunate that we are not looking at fatalities here this morning, thankfully those residents who were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation are in a steady condition and should return home soon.

“I want to thank the emergency services for their quick response, and indeed Housing Executive officials who were quick on the scene this morning to organise alternative accommodation and help the PSNI with their investigation.”

“This was a senseless attack which could have very nearly resulted in fatalities, I would ask anybody with information to come forward now and help the PSNI conclude their ongoing investigation.”

Cllr Colin McGrath (SDLP) has condemned a fire deliberately started in Downpatrick saying it’s a miracle it didn’t cause death and destruction.

Commenting the Downpatrick councillor said: “My thoughts are with those impacted this morning in what must have been a frightening and harrowing experience. I would also like to commend the work of our local fire service whose prompt actions saved lives in this dangerous situation.

“Also, I would urge the PSNI to act swiftly in this matter and for anyone with information about the person who started this fire to bring such information to the police to assist them in their investigation.

“Fires can be a very dangerous and lethal force and people in Downpatrick could have been waking up to a much worse story this morning.”

Downpatrick  Councillor Naomi Bailie (Sinn Féin) has also condemned the arson attack in Downpatrick in the early hours of this morning.

Cllr Bailie said this type of behaviour was “totally unacceptable” and encouraged anyone with information about the “horrific events” to contact thePSNI.
“This is a disgraceful attack. We could have been dealing with fatalities here this morning in Saul Street if only for the quick actions of Fire and Rescue teams and local residents.
“Elderly people, families, a young mother and baby being rescued out of their homes in the early hours and then having to spend the night in hospital. This has been a terrifying ordeal for those tenants living in McLaughlin House and the surrounding residents.
“I have been in touch with Housing Executive today regarding the re-housing of some of the tenants and staff should also commended for dealing with the issue speedily.
“I was contacted earlier in the week by a tenant in the flats who had concerns. There seems to be some evidence to suggest that this could have been a deliberate hate related crime. The PSNI will investigate the evidence available. There is absolutely no room in Downpatrick for this type of behaviour or those involved in it.”
McLaughlin Building on Saul Street. A wheelie bin was taken round the front o fthe building and set alight in the ground floor communal hall.

McLaughlin Building on Saul Street. A wheelie bin was taken round the front of the building and set alight in the ground floor communal hall.