Our Looking Back picture from the Gazette archives remembers the 1967 fire which destroyed one of the famous names on Blackpool's high street.
In scenes like the wartime blitz, dawn found RHO Hills in Bank Hey Street a smoking wreck on May 8, 1967. According to the Gazette report, it was “dawn and still thousands of gallons of water are poured into the smoking debris”.
The 1967 fire broke out at 12.20am. Within 15 minutes, flames were leaping through the sides of the building, making a glare in the night sky which could be seen many miles away. A matter of a couple of hours later, the five-storey building was reduced to a smoking ruin.
Up to 60 firemen from Blackpool, Preston and the Lancashire County brigade had rushed to the town centre to tackle the blaze, which quickly rose 100ft into the night sky. Between 30 and 40 police were also sent to the scene. One fire fighter was injured battling the inferno.
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The fire was so fierce, the building was still blazing two hours later, even though fire crews were pouring tonnes of water into it from 16 jets and three water towers. Luckily, there was not a strong wind, but the southerly breeze –which throughout the fire averaged about 10mph –blew sparks across Bank Hey Street. Chunks of blazing material were blown onto the roofs of neighbouring buildings. Firemen directed some of their hoses at the Tower itself, to prevent it from catching alight from the heat, but flames did manage to reach some canvas sheets which were draped around the Tower, protecting workers from wind during the day.
Dense clouds of black smoke billowed down Church Street and Victoria Street, and across the Promenade, causing a great smokescreen, which slowed traffic to a crawl. Crowds began to gather during the night and the following day, people flocked to the resort to catch a view of what was left of the building – causing traffic congestion and diversions all day long.
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It was store night watchman, Owen Davey, who initially discovered the fire at around midnight, during a routine check. He said: “I had gone to the roof on a security check, then reached the staff clocking-in room on the second floor on my way downstairs, when I smelled smoke.
“Opening a door, I wasconfronted virtually by a raging furnace.”
The store was rebuilt, and reopened in 1968. RHO Hills later became Binns, when it was taken over by House of Fraser in 1978. It closed in 1987.