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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
NI fires 'are 60% arson attacks'
Fire at centre
The roof of the community centre was badly damaged
The majority of fires the fire service tackles in Northern Ireland are arson, a senior fire officer has said.

Fire station commander Brian Irvine was speaking after a community centre in Ballynahinch was damaged when a fire started in bins spread to its roof.

"Probably in excess of 60% of the fires that are attended by the fire service are deliberate," Mr Irvine said.

"Quite often it's public amenities, public money that is being squandered by meaningless acts of vandalism."

There have been more than 1,000 arson attacks in Northern Ireland in the first six months of this year.

The fire at the community centre at Willow Crescent in Langley Road estate in Ballynahinch, was started at about 0245 BST on Thursday.

About half of the building's roof has been destroyed. The incident is not believed to have been sectarian.

Mr Irvine said bins left out for collection had been set alight and the fire then spread to the centre's roofspace.

"When it gets into the roofspace it's always very hard for us to tackle," he said.

"Our prime considerations are the safety of the firefighters and the nearby residents, but the firefighters worked very well and managed to save 50% of the building."

More than 30 firefighters took just over two hours to subdue the fire and Mr Irvine said there were initial concerns that paint used by local children for a community mural on part of the building would catch fire.

Mr Irvine said there was always an increase in such incidents at this time of year.

centre fire
The fire was started deliberately

"The summer months - maybe it's because the kids are off school and the warm weather - there's always an increase in the number of deliberate fires in Northern Ireland," he said.

"We're all working together to solve the same problem but again we need to get the message across that when people do this it's the innocent people that suffer and it's everybody in the community that suffers and has to pay for it."

DUP assembly member Jim Wells said he did not think the incident was sectarian.

"I'm sure the person who did this had no idea the implications for the community. And maybe when he wakes up, probably late this morning, he'll realise he's robbed Langley Road of its only facility.

"I hope the council will provide some sort of mobile or temporary accommodation until the building is either replaced or repaired," Mr Wells said.

In another incident on Thursday morning, a mobile classroom at Forthriver Primary School in west Belfast was destroyed in an arson attack.

Attacks on two fire depots in County Tyrone on Wednesday morning have put a number of jobs at risk.

See damage caused by the fire

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