Northern Ireland

Gorse fire near Newry homes believed to have been deliberate

The gorse fire in Newry Image copyright Peter McAleavey
Image caption The fire moved perilously close to a school and several houses in Newry

A large gorse fire that threatened houses and a school in Newry, County Down, is believed to have been started deliberately, fire crews have said.

More than 60 firefighters tackled the blaze on a hill behind Barley Lane on Friday night, with flames coming within yards of some homes.

The fire, near St Mary's High School, was reported at about 20:50 BST and was not extinguished until 02:00 BST.

It was just one of 161 incidents crews dealt with since 18:00 BST on Friday.

Local residents watched, some in tears, as the flames moved perilously close to their houses.

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) Group Commander Brian Stanfield said eight fire appliances were used to battle the blaze, which was about a mile from the city centre.

Image copyright Faye Broadway
Image caption Local residents watched the fire as it approached their homes
Image caption Firefighters were still at the scene on Saturday, investigating the cause

Faye Broadway, who lives a few streets away, told BBC News NI that residents were upset and some had fled their homes in their nightwear.

She said she witnessed two elderly women "in tears" as they looked for missing pets.

'Thick smoke'

Ms Broadway's partner, David Cadden, said they were looking out of their bedroom window when they saw thick, black smoke coming over their house and then flames reaching above tree-level.

"We decided to just take a walk up to make sure that there was no-one in danger, because it looked quite serious," he said.

"As I was going up, there were people running out of their house, crying... it's been quite dramatic really."

Mr Cadden said: "I walked up to the back of their houses and the fire was literally a stone's thrown away, with ash falling down and embers hitting the roof.

"They were all running out of the house in their pyjamas, with dogs in their hands, and running across the street."

He described how the ash was also falling on crowds as they gathered to watch and firefighters moved members of the public back for their own safety.

Image copyright Faye Broadway
Image caption It is believed a number of homes were evacuated

Some of the crews deployed to the scene were sent from as far away as Belfast, on a very busy night for the service.

Earlier on Friday, firefighters revealed that they had dealt with 221 gorse fires over the last five days, 92% of which were started deliberately.

They said the recent spell of dry, sunny weather, had "provided a tinderbox landscape" for gorse fires.

Image copyright Faye Broadway
Image caption Thick smoke billowed close to houses as firefighters tackled the blaze

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