Tuesday, June 03, 2008

O'Neill's on fire

I was confined to the house this morning while a small team of electricians changed the smoke detection alarm system. Just around midday I had my seond call of the morning from the carpenter working on a job in church, hunting for the right keys to gain access to the chancel from among the collection held by Tea Room workers. Almost casually he mentioned that smoke was coming into church from a fire over at O'Neill's pub across Trinity Street from the churchyard.

When Clare returned, I was able to pop down and see the chaos for myself, but couldn't get close because there was a security cordon right around the area. The Market, Howells store and all the neighbouring shops had been evacuated. The Tea Room workers had gone home by this time, obliged by the police to leave. However, the carpenter continued his tasks within the building, and conscientiously locked up after him, as I discovered later.

It seems as if as fire started in the kitchen at the back of the building on the first floor and spread upwards into a small apartment on the third floor, and thence into the roof space. By the time I get there, around two, the flames had ceased leaping through the void where the roof had collapsed, but water was still being pumped in to bring down the temperature and suppress smouldering beams particularly around the chimney stack shared with Piazza Italia next door.
Piazza Italia has its kitchen on the second floor, and apparently suffered some smoke damage, but was otherwise saved by prompt action on the part of the fire brigade.

It could have been so much worse, as Steve Barrett, City Centre Ops manager commented. At 11h50, the pedestrian zone regulations were already in force and so it was possible for the fire tenders, a water bowser, mobile platform and a mobile control room to get into Church Street anmd Trinity Street unhindered. It could have been worse if the re-paving work had been a bit more advanced and the street in front of the pub was being excavated. It could have been worse if the pub had opened for trade. As it is, there were no casualities apart from the day's takings for all the businesses in the district forced to shut down and evacuate, leaving behind a fair amount of food which will be unsaleable tomorrow. Will insurance cover all of that loss of income I wonder? It would be difficult to imagine - not least as there is still no organisation that unites all the traders in the quarter to represent them on issues of common concern, whether it be on traffic management or matters of redevelopment. How quickly the old motto 'unity is strength' seems to be forgotten.

I went down to have a second look this evening. The pub and Piazza Italia are cordoned off temporarily with Heras fencing. If that's there in the morning, it's be bedlam with all the various food supply lorries arriving. It doesn't look as if the fire damaged building is about to collapse into the street, as the burning went on mostly at the back and upstairs. Most of the windows on the street side are undamaged, the doors are intact.

Ironically, there's a notice in the unbroken picture window on to the street.

'Kitchen staff required'

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