Lancashire Mill Blaze – 20th October 1969
At 13.53 on Monday 20th October 1969 fire brigade control in Manchester received a call to a fire at a mill that was used as a warehouse. The building was used as a carpet warehouse, but also contained large amounts of plastic toys and games in other areas.
The fire was first discovered by an employee who, after noticing the electric lights in the building flickering during what was an extended lunch break. When investigating he noticed the fire, which was high in the stacks of stored goods. He immediately informed other members of the staff then called the security officer who in turn called the fire brigade. The pre-determined attendance to this incident was Wigan’s Water tender/ladder, pump escape, turntable ladder and an emergency/salvage tender. This was backed up by a water tender/ladder from Hindley. The Deputy Chief Fire Officer also attended on this first call.
On arrival at 13.58 and passing through the main gates to the site, the first crews were met with the site of around 2,500 personnel who had evacuated various buildings on the site once they heard the fire alarms actuating. These people were lined up alongside the roads outside the building. These people hindered operations during the early stages of the incident, due to the effected building being at the furthest point from the gates. It would take crews a further 2 minutes to reach the fire.
After struggling through the crowds and meeting the sites security officer it was found that the fire was situated high in the carpet warehouse. Although only a small amount of carpets were stored at the time, a large amount of plastic toys were being stored. The crews were informed that all persons had been accounted for, and that al electrical supplies had been isolated from the building
On seeing large amounts of smoke billowing from the end of the warehouse, it was decided to make pumps 4. This assistance message was sent at 14.01. One of the first pumps to work its way through the crowds was now ordered to make its way to the North gable end of the mill. This meant turning round in the yard and making its way back through the crowds, then making its way along the main road. On leaving the gates its exit was blocked by another appliance turning up. Both appliances then made their way to the North gable end.
At this stage access to fight the fire from the outside was restricted to just one door at the South side of the building. Crews using BA entered via this point taking jets in with them. The North West corner was now well alight, so at 14.09 the order was sent to make pumps 6. It was soon after this message was sent the Chief Fire Officer arrived on the fire ground.
A door allowing entry to the fire from the North side was found, this door led to an area occupied by the G.P.O. and was not involved in the fire, but due to intense heat within this area, crews were unable to use this entry point and could only operate jets from the outside. All other doors into the building were of the roller shutter type, and were operated from the inside by electric motors. Due to the power within the building being isolated none of these shutters could be opened. At about 14.25 an explosion was heard to come from within the area occupied by the G.P.O.
This explosion caused a section of wall to be pushed out and collapse onto 3 of the firefighters who were manning a jet in that area. This is where one of those caught in the collapse, Sub. Officer Chadwick was to receive serious injuries. He suffered a crushed foot, broken ribs, and back along with internal injuries including a punctured lung.
Following this collapse, 12 jets were got to work from both the South and North sides of the building. This included jets that were got to work from the rooftops of surrounding properties. The final messages were fire surrounded sent at 15.42, and the stop message that was sent at 16.19.
A report following this fire mentioned the many difficulties involved in fighting this fire, and drew attention to the difficulties encountered by the vast crowds, limited access to the effected building and to the limited access for appliances to get near to the fire.
As a result of this fire, and the collapse, Sub Officer Chadwick, who was only 32 at the time of this accident, would remain in a wheelchair for 32 years until his death in 2001.