It’s 65 years ago since Blackpool Tower’s buildings were damaged in a blaze. The fire caused devastation but thanks to the courageous efforts of firefighters and a stable southerly wind direction – the buildings survived.
December 14 1956
Damage estimated at £250,000 was caused by a disastrous fire in Blackpool Tower building today.
Several hours after the fire was discovered, firemen for still trying to control the blaze, which was creeping underneath the floor of the ballroom.
One of the firemen fighting the blaze was overcome by fumes – Bert Purcell, John Grendson and Ronnie Gale
By 12.42 this afternoon, however, it was said to be under control.
Two firemen were taken to hospital after being overcome by fumes, but were later discharged after treatment.
Twenty one birds in the Roof Garden Zoo died in the fire. It is believed they were killed by smoke.
None of the animals in the main zoo were hurt.
An exhausted fireman takes a rest during the arduous task of extinguishing the blaze
They were restless when smoke began to pour in, but became calm when they heard human voices.
Firemen dug up a portion of the ballroom floor with pick axes and crowbars and pumped water downwards.
Among the dead birds were a valuable white parrot and Australian finches and weavers.
Read here: When Boots went up in flamesThe curator of the zoo, Mr RE Legge, succeeded in reviving about a dozen other birds which he had thought were dead.
A member of the tower staff shines a searchlight onto the heart of the fire
Mr Legge calmed lions and tigers in the zoo by talking to them.
Only by a miracle and through the terrific efforts of the fire fighters was the Blackpool Tower saved from complete destruction.
The miracle was the fact that the strong wind stayed southerly rather than west or north west and so blew the flames away from the centre of the building.
The toil of the firemen, in breathing apparatus to combat the dense smoke and fumes, was rewarded soon after noon, five hours after the alarm was given, when the fire between the ballroom floor and the buffet bar roof was brought under control.
Firemen pull a hose from the top of a fire escape through a Tower building window at the corner of Victoria Street during the fire.
Inside was a scene of desolation and destruction.
The north end of the famous ‘Wonderland of the World’ was a grim waste of smoke, running water, charred wood and fire hoses.
Men in gum boots, turned up trousers over soaked shoes were everywhere helping.
“At a modest estimate,’ said a Tower executive, ‘the damage must me £250,000.
When firemen arrived at the Tower, tongues of flames were leaping through the windows.
To tackle the blaze they lay flat on the floor aiming their hoses towards the flames.
The Ballroom took the brunt of the blaze
They worked their way up from the first floor to the ballroom balcony and the fire appeared under control at this point until it became apparent that it was burning under the ballroom floor.
Later, ballroom spotlights, a familiar feature to thousands of dancers, were used to aid the firefighters.
A Tower spokesman interviews by the Evening Gazette said: “We do not know as yet where the fire began.
“However it seems probably that it was in or near the crush room which separates the actual ballroom from the buffet.
“The reports of the firemen on duty on all other matters will be examined forthwith.
“And the work of clearing the debris and reconstruction will begin as soon as possible.
“We are indeed grateful for the valiant efforts of the Fire Brigades and for the wonderful help given by our own staff from all our buildings who rallied to give whatever help they could.
“The damage?” It is quite impossible to begin to estimate it. It would only be guessing.
“Once can only be thankful that the wind was not northwesterly and that the terrific efforts of all concerned were successful in preventing worst havoc.”
Mr GW Foster, the Tower Company’s chief engineer was overcome by smoke and had to be taken into the fresh air where he soon recovered and carried on with his duties.
The aftermath in the ballroom