Hosting August 15th bonfires at Meenan Square is so dangerous it has the potential to trigger a major explosion at the nearby electrical substation, a Fire & Rescue Commander has warned.
Fire & Rescue Western Area Commander Mark Deeney said that efforts must be redoubled to ensure any future bonfires are held in a different location, as the cocktail of 11,000 volts of electricity, 1,300 litres of oil stored in a cylinder and sulphur hexaflouride gas in the substation.
The bonfire was shifted to Nailor’s Row in 2015 following talks between the fire service, the community, young people and other agencies.
Speaking before Derry & Strabane Council’s Health and Community Committee about the dangers posed by a return to bonfires at Meenan Square beside the substation, Mr. Deeney said: “If fire got into the roof of that building it would be very difficult to deal with it. With the presence of the oil and gas there is the hazard of ean xplosion there.”
He added that in such an instance, fire-fighters would have to evacuate residents and their own personnel to a safe distance, adding that they could not put water on a live electrical fire.
“I don’t want to exaggerate the risk here, but this is a very real risk,” he claimed. “If we can’t fight it, that fire will be burning for several days.”
He said that as well as the substation, there was also a risk of fire spreading to the adjacent three-storey homes at Durrow Park.
In 2013, one youth had to be taken to hospital with burns after climbing on the bonfire and using petrol to ignite it.
Mr Deeney said there was also a risk to the thousands of spectators who gather at the bonfire, which in 2014 was bigger than the one staged the previous year.
“In 2015 it looked like it was going to be bigger again and we couldn’t take that chance,” he said.
As a result, Fire & Rescue Service officers and various stakeholders began talks in November 2014, which resulted in the bonfire being shifted to Nailor’s Row instead.
The cost of replacing the substation in the Bogside meanwhile would be £60,000, the committee was told.
The Housing Executive have now carried out a survey in the Bogside to get the views of local people about bonfires, with 86% opposed to fires in close proximity to homes, and 64% who do not want it at all. 18% were happy to have a bonfire as long as it was supervised, in a safe area and away from their homes.
A different survey in the Fountain, meanwhile, found that 86% of residents felt the bonfire there was part of their culture and tradition.