INSIDE THE INFERNO
REVEALED: BLOCHAIRN FIREFIGHTERS’ STORY
ONE month ago, Glasgow’s Blochairn fruit market was engulfed in flames and threatened with total destruction.
Thanks to the efforts of the city’s firefighters much of the complex was saved.
The Evening Times has been granted exclusive access to the site and senior fire officers to tell the story of the blaze.
VALIANT firefighters risked their lives battling searing heat and flames to save as many businesses as they could during the Blochairn fruitmarket blaze.
Glasgow’s fire chief has told of his crew’s heroic efforts to tackle the inferno which broke out four weeks ago today.
A 70-strong team rallied round Jim Hymas, the city’s top firefighter, and his deputy John Joyce as they led the operation on August 17.
The crews were determined to save as many traders’ businesses as possible and got to work hemming in the flames using curtains of water.
Throughout the night and the following day, they used more than half a million litres of water and rolled out close to a mile of hosepipe in their marathon efforts to stop further damage
Four high-reaching fire engines were deployed at each corner of the building to tackle the flames from above and, at the same time, firefighters laden with bulky breathing gear, helmets and heavy hosereels, stormed the building’s internal staircases.
Their incredible efforts managed to stop the flames reaching other parts of the complex, allowing the rest of the market to open for trading again less than 24 hours later.
Jim, Glasgow’s local senior officer, said he was “so proud” of his team, who battled temperatures of more than 1000 degrees and a ceiling of flame as they entered the burning building.
Jim said: “That fire was incredible in its intensity and how fast it was spreading across both those blocks.
“What we tried to do is set up a massive water curtain, effectively like a fire break. As soon as we got there, we had to make an assessment.
“As hard as it is, we had to say ‘We’ve lost that part of the building and we can’t bring it back. What I need to do is stop this spreading and keep as many of these traders in business as I can.’
“We were focused on trying to keep as many people in business as long as possible.”
“Those firefighters, they put themselves in harm’s way to do the best they could.
“When they went in, the fire was ripping across the top of them and they were trying to knock it down and stop it with a massive amount of water.
“The high-reach vehicles were put on each corner to stop the fire spreading along that building. While that was getting set up the firefighters were inside that building, inside the internal stairs trying to stop it from inside.”
At one point he had to order his crew to withdrawn from the heart of the inferno as steel columns buckled and twisted around them and brickwork blew out due to the scorching heat.
He said: “Bits of the building were lost and it started to collapse.
“The heat had managed to push out some of the steel columns which had burst open the brick work at the back.
“All the girders were falling down, the steel was falling about them and they eventually had to evacuate and withdraw to a certain point.”
A major part of the job, Jim explained, is knowing when to back off, and how to respect the fire.
“Sometimes the fire will drive you back,” he said.
“It is so intense and so hot, it’s being driven by fuel and wind current.
“It’s a living thing, a living phenomenon and it will take your life if you don’t respect it.
“There were aspects that were really hazardous to our firefighters. They put themselves in harm’s way to stop the fire getting to blocks A-F, block E and the fish market.”
Not only was Jim in control of the latter part of the operation, he was also responsible for keeping the traders up to date and providing reassurance.
He explained: “I was having a conversation with the guys in the fish market who said if they lost their stall they would have lost 40 years of a family business.
“I told them that we were doing everything we possibly could, explained where we were putting the water.
“I said ‘We are going to stop this’. And we did it. The firefighters did it.”
As the damage from the blaze was so severe, fire investigators were unable to get in to the site immediately but are now working to determine the cause of the blaze.
Demolition crews continue to work on site to clear away the damage.
Jim Hymas said the intensity of the fire at the fruitmarket was incredible
Workmen are still clearing the site at the wholesale market. Picture: Jamie Simpson
The aftermath of last month’s huge blaze shows machinery destroyed, above left, workers continuing to assess the building, above, our front page, inset, bags of onions on top of wreckage, top right, rolls of steel, second top, burnt-out sections...