The great fire of Shrewsbury - and how to prevent it

Fish Street, Shrewsbury: This fire could have destroyed Shrewsbury's heritage. |Firefighters at the scene in Fish Street, Shrewsbury|Firefighters at the scene in Fish Street, Shrewsbury|

A blaze spreads through Shrewsbury town centre destroying hundreds of years of the historic town's heritage - this is the "nightmare" scenario facing fire officers who aim to prevent such a disaster.

They are calling all owners of Grade I and II listed buildings to come to a public awareness seminar being held to protect centuries old buildings which make Shrewsbury stand out as one of the UK's most historic and remarkable centres.

A fire in Fish Street four years ago which began when decorators were using a blow lamp to strip paint in an old building could have wiped out much of the town's history, warned Incident Commander Jim Labouchardiere.

Another "near-miss" happened when a Chinese restaurant next door to two Grade I listed buildings set ablaze in Barracks Passage, he said.

"After the Fish Street fire we drew up contingency plans to deal with another incident. Now we want to educate owners and occupiers of listed buildings about the danger from fire, its effect on historic buildings, and what we can all do to prevent it happening."

The fire officer, who recently attended a similar educational event in Durham, decided to organise the seminar in Shrewsbury with the help of Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council and English Heritage.

Fires in old buildings are a "nightmare" for firefighters to deal with, said the incident commander, with fire able to travel through large voids in 400-year-old properties.

"If we lost a building like Rowley's Mansion or the Lion Hotel it would affect the look of the town and there could be a serious knock on effect hitting tourism and loss of business," said Mr Labouchardiere.

A recent fire in the historic "Rows" in Chester led to a multi-million-pound loss in trade, he added.

There are around 600 historic buildings in the centre of Shrewsbury, including seventeen listed as Grade I. and over forty Grade II* listed buildings. In Shrewsbury & Atcham there are a total of 2,400 listed buildings.

The free seminar will be held at The Prince Rupert Hotel on Wednesday, November 15 from 6.30pm to 9pm. Speakers include Shrewsbury & Atcham's Conservation Officer Mr Ian Kilby who will talk about the importance of historic buildings and reveal the potential danger of fire in a medieval town centre.

Mr Steve Emery, of English Heritage will discuss why fire starts, how it grows, and the difficulty of fighting such fires. Sub Officer Martin Huckle, of Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service will tell the audience about fire risk assessments.

There are 120 places at the seminar and people interested in attending should email or call Martin Huckle at Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service on 01743 260 260.

3rd October, 2006