York Minster Fire – 9th July 1984
In the early hours of Monday 9th July 1984 a bolt of lightening struck the medieval York Minster Cathedral. This strike caused the automatic fire alarm that was linked directly to the fire brigade control in North Atherton to actuate. The time was 02.30am. Immediately the brigade’s pre determined attendance of 2 Pumps, a Turntable ladder and an Officer from York were dispatched. These appliances would arrive within 4 minutes.
The crews of York’s Red Watch were first to arrive. They were faced with the sight of fire breaking through the roof structure above the South Transept. Showers of sparks and thick black smoke were already visible in the dark night sky. Immediately those residents living nearby were evacuated and surrounding roads closed. It was now that all the detailed plan of how to fight the blaze was put in place. This plan had been updated and rehearsed regularly by fire crews from York and surrounding areas. Now all this practice and planning would prove worthwhile,
Firefighters entering the vast Cathedral found the fire situated between a roof void and the roof itself. They quickly placed ladders within the building, but these crews soon had to be evacuated due to burning timbers and molten lead falling to the floor below. It was now that the message asking for reinforcements. These extra appliances set into nearby fire hydrants and set to work pumping water from the River Ouse. Vast quantities of water were directed at the famous Rose Window, these were successful in helping prevent damage to this irreplaceable treasure. Firefighters attempted to stop the fire from spreading, but it soon became apparent drastic measures would be needed.
The decision to use a powerful jet to start the collapse of the roof structure was taken. If this decision had not been taken it is more than likely that the entire cathedral would have been lost to the rapid spread of fire and the enormous build up of heat within the building. The idea was successful and after at 4.00am the roof structure gave way. Flames shot high into the night sky to a height of over 200 feet and heat within the cathedral escape into the night. Crews working inside the cathedral used jets to extinguish the roof structure as it fell onto the floor 120 feet below. At 5.05am the message informing control “Fire surrounded” was sent
At 05.24am the stop message was sent, meaning the fire was now under control and no further men would be needed apart from crews to relieve those firefighters that had worked so hard to save one of the worlds most famous landmark buildings. Fire crews would remain at the scene for 24 hours to ensure there were no further outbreaks of fire and to assist with salvage operations.
Throughout the fire clergymen assisted by Police Officers and firefighters rescued priceless treasures from within the cathedral, including ancient documents, choir stalls, candlesticks and crosses amongst other items. Even though many artefacts were saved, and firefighters prevented the fire spreading to the remainder of the cathedra, losses were estimated to be over £3 million.
In total 25 appliances were summoned to this blaze. 12 of North Yorkshire’s 21 fire stations were mobilised and the entire county’s other fire stations, plus crews from South and West Yorkshire, Cleveland and Lancashire were involved in providing fire cover during this major incident.