AN arson probe was today launched after Blackpool’s former Illuminations depot was destroyed in a massive fire.
Thirty firefighters were drafted in last night to tackle the blaze which broke out in the huge warehouse on Rigby Road - near to Blackpool FC’s Bloomfield Road stadium.
The drama began at around 10.30pm after thick plumes of smoke could be seen drifting dangerously towards homes on Central Drive and off Yeadon Way.
A local taxi driver called the police to say he had seen a group of people running away from the scene.
Fire chiefs said the heat of the blaze was so severe steel girders buckled and brought a huge section of concrete roof crashing to the ground.
Geoff Etheridge, watch manager at South Shore Fire Station, said: “Had anyone been in there at the time they would not have got out.
“The fire was so intense it has caused the girders to give way and half of the roof of what is a 150m by 100m building to cave in.”
A large crowd of people gathered as fire crews from across the Fylde coast were sent to the building which was the main storage for the Illuminations for many years before they were moved to a new premises on Blackpool Business Park.
There were some old displays inside - including the much-loved Postman Pat and Dinosaurs - but all were destroyed in the fire.
Police cordoned off Rigby Road as fire crews attempted to bring the blaze under control with hoses both on the ground and high above the building via an aerial ladder.
Eyewitness Richard Small of the Lynnhaven Hotel on nearby Blundell Street said: “We saw fire shooting out of the top of the building and black smoke billowing out.
“It was an enormous fire and looked very frightening.”
Watch manager Etheridge added: “We fought the fire defensively which means we did not go into the building.
“We had been there no more than five or 10 minutes when the concrete slab roof collapsed.
“It took us around an hour to bring the fire under control.
“I would say around two thirds of the building was affected by the fire.
“A large number of fibre glass moulds and Illuminations figures were destroyed by the fire.”
Watch manager Etheridge confirmed: “The cause of the fire is now under investigation.
“We are at very early stage, but initial investigations point towards it being a deliberate fire. There is no gas or electricity supply to the property.”
A building inspector was due to inspect the damage today. It is now likely the gutted building – today a charred mess of tangled steel and concrete – will have to be demolished.
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “We were called to assist the fire service at 10.30pm after reports of a fire in Blackpool Council’s old Illuminations storage depot.
“Rigby Road was closed and a large crowd were at the scene.
“A taxi driver saw a group of around four people running away from the scene.”