A bar worker today relived the terrifying moment staff were forced to flee as a Blackpool venue went up in flames.
Blake Bowring, 28, was in a flat above Walkabout when fire started to tear through the Queen Street building at 5.30am yesterday.
He and 11 other workers raced downstairs from their rooms – where they lived above the bar – and escaped as the blaze took hold.
Today, fire investigators were at the scene trying to piece together how the fire started. Experts said the cost of the blaze could run into millions of pounds.
Mr Bowring, a junior manager from Mundulla, in South Australia, said: “I heard the alarm and quickly ran downstairs. I found the fire and ran back upstairs to grab my pet tortoise and check everyone was out while I was up there.
“What’s happened still hasn’t sunk in – it was just instinct to check the rooms.
“Shelley’s my tortoise, I’m not going to leave him behind.”
Mr Bowring, wearing just pyjamas and nothing on his feet, joined scores of onlookers who watched more than 70 firefighters tackle the blaze.
As reported in The Gazette’s special late edition yesterday, the fire raged for several hours with crews remaining at the scene throughout yesterday afternoon to dampen down the charred building.
Aerial ladder platforms were brought in to fight the fire from above with crews smashing through sections of the roof to gain access to the flames spreading through the roof spaces of the Victorian-age building.
Graham Green, from Blackpool-based loss assessors Bell Green, said he believed the fire could have caused “multi-million pound damage.”
Investigators were due to return today but may not be able to enter the building amid fears it may collapse. It was declared too unsafe yesterday afternoon.
Doug Spence was DJing at the popular nightspot just hours before the blaze.
He left Walkabout at 2am, and heard about the fire at 6.30am.
He said: “Everyone is just devastated. Everything that they’ve brought with them is gone. It’s so sad.
“The whole building is affected.”
John Leslie, chief executive officer of Intertaiment Limited, which owns Walkabout in Blackpool, said: “At the moment we do not know the extent of the damage or how the fire started, but when these things happen our biggest concern is the safety of the staff who all got out safely and quickly.
“It will take a while before we can get in there and assess the damage.”
The bar provides accommodation for 13 members of staff, many Australian backpackers. Twelve were inside at the time of the blaze.
The affected staff were given money to buy clothes and shoes and were put up in a nearby hotel last night. They were hoping to be moved to other Walkabout venues today.
Scores of eyewitnesses described the scene that greeted them yesterday morning.
Jon and Barbara Berry,on holiday from Rawtenstall, East Lancashire, are staying at the Metropole, opposite Queen Street.
Mrs Berry, 54, said: “We were woken up by the sound of the fire engines.
“We looked outside and saw all the smoke.
“It wasn’t long before the roof caved in at the back of the building.
“We could see the smoke spreading across – it was just like a film.
“It was scary because we thought there might have been people inside, but then we saw the staff members walking across the road, towards our hotel.”