80% of St. Mary’s club burned in worst of five arson incidents in four days

The fire on Monday night.
The fire on Monday night.

The fire service has urged young people to stop deliberately setting dangerous fires in the hearts of their own communities after the old St. Mary’s Youth Club in Creggan was targeted on Monday for the fifth time in just four days.

Group Commander, Fergal Leonard, expressed his frustration over the setting of fires in the derelict building, 80 per cent of which was destroyed in the worst of the five incidents on Saturday.

“Firefighters attended five incidents at the site over the weekend. The largest incident was on Saturday night,” he said.

“NIFRS received a call at 8.55 p.m. to a well-developed fire. A total of nine fire Appliances, from Northland, Crescent Link, Strabane, Dungiven and Ballymoney Fire Stations, with approx. 40 Firefighters attended the incident to extinguish the fire which destroyed about 80 per cent of the building.

"Firefighters were at the scene dealing with the incident until 2.15 a.m. on March 17,” he added.

While the blaze last Saturday was the most conspicuous several other incidents preceded it.

“Firefighters attended four other incidents at the site over the weekend, three of which involved rubbish deliberately set on fire. NIFRS is appealing to people to stay away from the site and is warning about the dangers of deliberate fire setting.

"Deliberate fires are a risk to both the public and Firefighters and they could have an impact on the local community - if NIFRS resources are responding to a deliberate fire this may have the potential to cause a delay in response to a real emergency in the area,” said GP Leonard.

Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly said: “Residents are furious that this is being allowed to happen and that no attempt has been made to secure the buildings or their perimeter despite the presence of asbestos which can release harmful fibres if burned.”

Earlier Sinn Féin Councillor Kevin Campbell said: “This situation cannot continue...especially for residents whose homes are just a few yards away from this building.”

An update on the St. Mary’s Youth Club Facebook page noted: “Just met with the contractors, the second asbestos test came back positive, HSE have issued the licence to remove and the specialist will be back tomorrow to take it away.

"The bulk of the building will be down by week’s end barring any other unforeseen issues. They have also informed me that they have employed local security and that they will maintain a presence from 5 p.m. each day.”