Bar owners’ shock at town venue inferno

Firefighters at the scene of the blaze at Walkabout in Queen Street, Blackpool. Below: Basil Newby.
Firefighters at the scene of the blaze at Walkabout in Queen Street, Blackpool. Below: Basil Newby.
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Bar owners on Queen Street today spoke of their shock after fire ripped through one of the biggest venues in the town centre.

Scores of people turned out to watch as up to 70 firefighters fought the flames which tore through popular bar, Walkabout, yesterday.

Basil Newby

Basil Newby

Many said the scene was reminiscent of the blaze at the former Yates’ building, less than 100 yards from Walkabout, in 2009, when the historic bar was destroyed.

Others described how important the venue was to the resort’s night-time economy.

Basil Newby, owner of Funny Girls, said he owed the success of his business to the Walkabout building, from which he built his entertainment empire, including Funny Girls.

He took on the corner building around 20 years ago, and sold it to Walkabout in 2002.

He said: “What’s happened is dreadful.

“We probably wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for that bar.”

As well as the Walkabout building, Mr Newby also once owned the properties next door, which may also be affected by yesterday’s inferno.

The fire ripped through the entire building just after 5.30am.

Smoke could be seen across the town centre while flames shot out of the roof.

Part of the roof collapsed shortly after the fire broke out, and firefighters had to smash their way into the attic to jet in more water.

By 3pm yesterday, six fire engines remained at the scene as firefighters continued to dampen down the building.

The electricity to the building had been isolated, and search and rescue teams had been inside to assess the safety of the structure.

Richard Edney, spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said the building was still too unsafe yesterday evening. We won’t be starting a proper investigation until the building is safe.”

He said it is not currently known where the fire started and a full investigation into the blaze was unlikely to begin until later today.

Mr Newby said he was saddened to see what had happened to the building, which he said dates back to the 1800s.

He added: “Walkabout is a big part of Queen Street and the night time economy – Friday and Saturday nights won’t have the same atmosphere this weekend and this probably will end up affecting us in some way.

“That place holds special memories for us, so it’s sad to see the building like it is now after what was really the start of Funny Girls. It pulls at my heart seeing it.

“That place was the acorn from which our oak grew.”

Martin Wilson, from Soul Suite, which is opposite Walkabout, said the fire was “tragic” but added his bar would not be affected by Walkabout’s closure as it catered to a different clientele.

He said: “It’s very sad, the fact that people live in the premises. It’s fantastic that they all got out safely, but now they are homeless.

“It is a big problem when we have young people looking for work in this climate.”

Peter Bowden, who runs Club Sanuk, added: “It’s devastating to see it go. It was one of the busiest and most successful bars in town.

“I hope the staff are all right and get jobs elsewhere.”

Onlookers said it was “a shame to see another old building on fire”.

Wendy Kinsey, 50, from Handsworth Road, North Shore, said it brought back bad memories of the Yates’ fire while Scott Jackson, 31, of Lily Street, in Blackpool, said it was devastating to see another pub gone.

The major roads into the town centre were closed yesterday as work continued to tackle the blaze.

The Promenade was initially closed completely in the area near to Walkabout, but reopened northbound later in the morning.

Queen Street, part of Dickson Road and Talbot Road were closed, and traffic was reversed along Topping Street.

Extra trams were put on by Blackpool Transport, which was at the scene assisting with the road issues.

Council on scene to help with blaze

Council teams were at the scene to help with road closures and to check whether the building was safe.

Coun Amy Cross, Blackpool Council cabinet member for crime and community safety, said: “It is always very concerning when you learn of such a large fire and it is a great relief that no one was hurt.

“The fire service deserves a great deal of credit for their work at the scene and the council has been working hard to assist them.

“Our traffic management and building control teams were on site throughout the day to look at the security of the structure of the building and ensure that the fire service are able to do their job, unimpeded, as safely as possible.”

Click here to read how The Gazette covered the story:

Bar staff relive inferno horror

SLIDESHOW: Workers flee as blaze rips through building

Investigation into Blackpool bar blaze