How firefighting heroics - and luck - saved Central Pier from destruction

It was only luck and firefighting heroics that stopped Central Pier – and another slice of Blackpool’s rich cultural history – from going up in smoke.

Friday, 17th July 2020, 3:30 pm

The night sky lit up orange for miles around as flames ripped through a workshop and the waltzers ride at the 150-year-old attraction early this morning.

And the chief in charge of the 70-or-so firefighters called to tackle the blaze by a security guard at 3.20am declared the iconic structure may have been engulfed had the weather not been so calm.

Commander Mark Winder also praised the quick thinking of the first crew to arrive, saying: “There is no doubt that if those actions had not been as swift or as decisive then we could have been dealing with something significantly different."

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A fire broke out on Blackpool's Central Pier at 3.20am on Friday, July 17, 2020. The blaze, which threatened to engulf the 150-year-old attraction, started in a workshop before spreading to the waltzers and Crazy Frog ride (Picture: South Shore Fire Station/Twitter/Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service)

The crew, White Watch from Blackpool's Forest Gate station, which arrived six minutes after being called, quickly radioed the control room for back-up before searching out hydrants specially installed along the Prom to protect key attractions from fiery disasters exactly like this.

“It was really good decision-making by the initial firefighters who made the decision to call ten engines to the incident and get access to the hydrants," Mr Winder said.

"Because they were able to get directly and close to the fire and attack it quickly we were able to bring it under control very quickly.”

Mr Winder added: “Piers are a unique risk and present challenges for us, hence why we do a lot of training with the pier operators.

"With a pier, it depends very much on what is on fire and the strength and direction of the wind.

"Fortunately, this morning the tide was out which was helpful for us because we could deploy people onto the beach to fight the fire from below and on the pier as well."

Aerial pictures taken by the fire service drone showed the extent of the damage.

The waltzers ride was left little more than a charred shell, with thermal images showing the heat melting through the pier’s wooden floor and onto the exposed sand below.

A corrugated roofed workshop beside it had a hole burnt through its roof.

And the Crazy Frog ride also appeared to have been damaged.

Colin Hickson, another commander at the scene, said: “The fire has started within the workshop and spread to the waltzers and another ride.

"There is also damage to the main flooring of the pier.”

Gaynor Sedgwick, whose family owns all three of Blackpool’s piers, said: “Everyone responded so well to the fire and the fire service was unreal with its response, but we are going through the emotions with everything at the moment.”

She declined to comment further.

The pier, which had its entrance covered in scaffolding last month to allow for general maintenance work to be carried out, only opened around two weeks ago following the coronavirus-related lockdown.

Some 10 fire engines and crews were called to help after six 999 calls, including from a pier overnight watchman, raised the alarm.

As blue lights descended on the seafront, the Prom was closed for half a mile between the Coral Island arcade, itself damaged in a fire last September, and Manchester Square.

By 7am, the fire was under control. Crews took advantage of the low tide to blast the embers with water from below to stop the blaze taking hold once again.

Following a meeting between officials at 9.30am an investigation into the cause was opened. Lancashire Police said there was no immediate indication the blaze was suspicious.

Councillor Tony Williams, who is a member of the Central Lancashire Fire Authority, said: “Our response times for Lancashire are some of the best in the UK if not Europe.

“The fact firefighters were there in six minutes is outstanding. It could have been the difference between controlling the fire so it was just in one area and it destroying the whole pier.

“Their fast actions and expertise could very well have saved the pier. Losing it would have been a travesty.”

Coun Williams, who is the opposition leader at the Town Hall, added: “I feel sorry for the owners. I hope nobody loses their job over this.”