Apartment block blaze: ‘It was pitch black and people couldn’t see where they were going’

A resident of the Belfast city centre apartment block where a fire broke out in the early hours of this morning has told how clouds of thick, black smoke hampered people’s escape.

The tenant, who didn’t want to be named, was among 80 people evacuated from the building after a blaze broke out in a first floor apartment.

The thick, black smoke made it difficult for residents to escape the building.

The thick, black smoke made it difficult for residents to escape the building.

Two people required hospital treatment after the terrifying incident at the Choice Housing-owned property on Great Victoria Street.

“I heard noises and looked out and saw all this black smoke,” the resident told the News Letter.

“The block has a central square and this thick, black smoke was just trapped in the square. It was pitch black and people couldn’t see where they were going.

“People couldn’t see past their noses, quite literally. But luckily they are familiar with the building and managed to get themselves out.

Smoke filled the square in the middle of the apartment building at Great Victoria Street.

Smoke filled the square in the middle of the apartment building at Great Victoria Street.

“I think people handled it really well, but it was scary.”

More than 50 firefighters, ambulance service personnel and police officers were tasked to the six-floor property shortly after 2am.

A Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus extinguished the fire using firefighting jets and searched the six floor premises. All 80 occupants were safely evacuated following extensive smoke spread.

“NIFRS worked alongside Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and Belfast City Council to relocate occupants to nearby community centre until the incident was dealt with.”

Dozens of firefighters and ambulance service personnel were tasked to the major incident at Great Victoria Street in the centre of Belfast this morning. Pic: David McCormick/Pacemaker Press

Dozens of firefighters and ambulance service personnel were tasked to the major incident at Great Victoria Street in the centre of Belfast this morning. Pic: David McCormick/Pacemaker Press

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

A spokesperson for Choice Housing Ireland said: “All residents were safely evacuated from their homes and we are working with the NI Fire and Rescue Service to ascertain the cause of the fire. Two tenants required hospital treatment for smoke inhalation and we hope they recover quickly.

“Choice staff are currently assisting all of the residents and we can confirm that the majority have now been allowed back into their homes. We are working hard to get the remaining tenants back into their home or alternative accommodation as quickly as possible.

“We would like to thank the NIFRS, Ambulance Service and the PSNI for their quick response and to the concierge on-site who assisted emergency services with evacuation procedures.”