Commander surprised to find survivors in Belfast house fire, as trio remain critical

Forensics officers at the scene of the Ardoyne blaze
Forensics officers at the scene of the Ardoyne blaze

One fire commander said he was surprised to have recovered anybody alive from a major house blaze which has left three patients fighting for their lives.

The fire had engulfed a property in the Ardoyne neighbourhood in the north of Belfast late on Thursday, and could have been burning for up to half an hour before it was discovered – because the house appeared to have had no smoke alarms.

William Johnston, station commander at the scene fire which broke out at a Jamaica Street home

William Johnston, station commander at the scene fire which broke out at a Jamaica Street home

As of Saturday morning, the two adults who were pulled from the burning home were still in the Royal Victoria Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, along with a female child, aged just three months old.

They were found in the front bedroom, while the blaze appeared to have begun in the kitchen or living room area downstairs at the Jamaica Street house.

Around 20 firefighters had been tasked to the fire.

Station commander William Johnston described a scene of “chaos” when crews arrived, after being alerted by someone who spotted the fire from outside the house.

The house following the fire

The house following the fire

“On arrival, there was a bit of pandemonium about the street,” he said.

He estimated up to 40 people had been in the area, and believes some had tried to enter the property to help but had been “beaten back by the heat and smoke”.

However, they provided information to emergency services about the layout of the house and who they believed to be inside, allowing rescuers with breathing apparatus to recover them.

“Due to the lack of smoke alarms it had allowed the fire to develop quite significantly before the fire service were alerted by local residents,” he added.

Asked if he was surprised that the householders had been found alive, he said: “It was a surprise, given the intensity of the fire, and the fact there were no smoke detectors.”

He estimated that it could have been burning for between 20 and 30 minutes.

Meanwhile Nigel Dodds, DUP MP for North Belfast, commended all those who tried to assist – including the residents of the Ardoyne – and branded the episode “a terrible and horrific incident which has left a baby girl and her parents in a critical condition in hospital”.