Posted By Robert. Stephenson

The Britannia Bridge fire

 

DISASTER struck over the Menai Strait on May 23 1970 when a group of teenagers accidentally set the Britannia Bridge alight.

 

They were carrying a piece of burning paper as a lamp and when the lit paper was dropped inside the bridge, the wood and tar inside the tubular structure caught fire. Strong wind and the tubular shape helped the fire spread along the bridge. The fire continued to burn for nine hours.

 

 One of the youths later said they had been invited to a party by a girl but when the group got to the house they found her parents had gone out and locked it.

 Instead of the party they decided to go down to the "tube" for a walk and after climbing a stile went into the structure for about 10 yards. He told reporters in 1972: "We had never been there before and just wanted to see what it was like. We couldn't see much just hear a noise from the girders. "There was a page of a book on the floor and I had my lighter. I lit the paper and threw it behind one of the girders.”  The burning paper set light to tar on the wooden sleepers on the track. As the roof was wood the fire quickly spread, from the mainland side of the bridge towards Anglesey, aided by strong winds.

 

Fire crews from Bangor were first on the scene after the alarm was raised at 9.43pm and found the entrance tower well alight, with fire already spreading rapidly over the roof of the first span.  A former Bangor fire fighter said later the tube was “like a long chimney on its side with a massive draw”. More appliances were requested and 11 appliances and more than 60 fire fighters fought the blaze but they were hampered by the wind and the inaccessible spot with low water pressure from hydrants. The tar covering the tubes melted and began falling from the bridge, setting light to trees and undergrowth below.

 The glow of the blaze could be seen from as far away as Holyhead and Llandudno and burnt fiercely for nine hours before firefighters succeeded in bringing it under control.

 

But Robert Stephenson's bridge, which had stood for 120 years, was virtually destroyed, severing Anglesey's rail link with the mainland. An official report into the fire fighting operation revealed low water pressure hindered the firemen’s work.

 

 Frank Hitchinson, the chief officer of Caernarvonshire ((CORR)) Fire Brigade, said there was no water hydrant near the bridge and the nearest water supply was the Menai Strait  about 450 yards away and down gradients of one in three. He said later the lack of a water hydrant was known to both fire services and British Railways (BR).

 

 The Secretary of State for Wales – the Rt Hon George Thomas MP visited the scene to inspect the fire damage the following day and congratulated the fireman of both brigades ”for the brave and courageous manner in which they fought and tackled the fire”, and endeavoured to save this vital communications link between the mainland and the county of Anglesey.

 

With traffic increasing, there are discussions concerning upgrading the Britannia Bridge once again.There has been no decision so far, so perhaps three bridges will cross the Menai Strait in future.

 
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