Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Saturday, 14 November 2009

Firefighters injured at college

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Twenty-six people were moved out of the college due to the fire

Two firefighters have been injured while tackling a fire at a theological college in south Belfast.

Eight fire appliances battled the blaze at Union Theological College on Botanic Avenue.

The fire service was contacted at 0700 GMT. Twenty six college residents were moved out of nearby accommodation.

Two firefighters were injured by molten metal inside the premises and were given first aid at the scene. The fire is being treated as suspicious.

The fire service has confirmed that it attended a blaze at the premises earlier in the morning at about 0230 GMT.

"Then just after 0700, a further call was received about a fire in the building and the fire crews and appliances have been there since that time," Group Commander Chris Kerr said.

"Part of the overall investigation is the circumstances of both incidents."

Deterioration

He said he was removing fire officers from inside the building because of the "fragile" state of the roof.

"The deterioration in the internal conditions of the building has meant we have asked for further resources and a high reach appliance so that the crews can operation from a platform of safety above the blaze," he added.

The fire was in a part of the college known as the Principal's House which is Grade A listed and is being renovated.

The work cost £2.2m and it was due to be used as a training resource centre when it opened in January 2010.

The college, which was founded in 1853, is the main theological institution for those wishing to train for the Presbyterian ministry.

Union Theological College
Flames rise above the building

It is also a part of Queen's University and theology students from all denominations are taught in the building.

Its library was used as the House of Commons chamber in the early days of the Northern Ireland parliament.

Devastated

Reverend Trevor Gribbon, who is secretary of the college management committee, said everyone who has a relationship with the college, was "devastated" by the fire.

"The good thing is that there has been no threat to life or indeed any loss of life," he said.

"We are very pleased that the fire authorities were able to stop the fire spreading to the main college which is also a Grade A listed building and if the fire had spread there, it would have been totally devastating."

He added that college authorities, students, architects and builders were all at the site and were "determined to pick up the pieces".

"We are now into the realm of loss adjustors and insurers and that will take a long while.

"We know that we are probably talking another year but we know that we will find a way through because this is a resource that is needed, not only for the church, but for the university and the wider community in Northern Ireland."

SDLP MLA for the area, Carmel Hanna, has extended her sympathy to college students and staff.

"This is an iconic building in South Belfast, which has been used by all denominations and none," she said.

"I hope the main building emerges unscathed and I extend my support to all those affected by the fire."



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