The Downpatrick community has been left “angered” following an arson attack at an old hospital site.
Emergency services were called to the scene on the Ardglass Road area following reports the Old Downe Hospital was on fire.
Over the course of the incident, nine fire appliances attended the incident which police are treating as arson.
A spokesperson for NIFRS said: “Firefighters were called to reports of a fire in the old Downe Hospital in Downpatrick. Firefighters used ladders to fight the fire externally and wore breathing apparatus to enter the building and fight the fire internally. They used 2 hose reel jets and 2 jets to extinguish the fire, which was confined to the ground and first floor of the building.
“The incident was dealt with by 12.20am on Wednesday 10 February and the cause of the fire is believed to have been deliberate ignition.”
MLA for South Down Colin McGrath said the police must take swift action after the ‘iconic’ building was targeted.
He said: “I was very sad to see the fire and damage to the old Downe hospital building in Downpatrick which is under reconstruction at present to become new and much needed social hosing.
“This is an iconic building in Downpatrick and a connection to the rich caring and health service heritage of our town and local people.
“There was some anti-social behaviour at this site just last week with a fire set and a security guard at the location allegedly assaulted by local youths.
“We must determine quickly the cause of this fire and if sinister, we must see swift action from the PSNI.”
Sinn Féin‘s Chris Hazzard has said the local community “are angered to see another fire at the Old Downe Hospital site”.
The South Down MP said: “The community were angered to see the Old Downe Hospital ablaze once again tonight.
“I commend the Fire and Rescue Services for their efforts to tackle the blaze.
“The emergency services are under pressure at this time and do not need this type of incident.
“I would encourage anyone with information on how this blaze started to come forward to the PSNI.”
Downpatrick and Lecale Councillor Oonagh Hanlon said she is “really disappointed”.
She added: “I had spoken to Clanmil Housing after the last incident. They shared my concerns at the risk to the social housing project and as such requested that the developer increased security.
“I also raised concerns with District Inspector of PSNI and had asked that closer attention be directed to this area. This is one of the most positive projects for our town in many years.
“For those who are in housing stress it will provide an opportunity to settle and make a home for life. Those who carry out these attacks don’t care for their own community.
“If anyone has witnessed suspicious behaviour in the area, I would encourage them to report to PSNI [on] 101. These culprits need to be held to account for their actions.”
PSNI Inspector Weatherald said: “Shortly before 7:50pm, it was reported that Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service were in attendance following a fire in the building. It is believed that a number of rooms inside the property were damaged and the fire extinguished following the incident.
“Enquiries are continuing and at this stage, the fire is being treated as deliberate.
“We would appeal to anyone who witnessed anything suspicious in the area at the time of the incident, to contact police on 101 quoting reference number 1750 09/02/21. A report can also be made online using our non-emergency reporting form via http://www.psni.police.uk/makeareport/ . You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at http://crimestoppers-uk.org/ .”
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