Summerland fire

Summerland fire disaster, Isle of Man

Opened with much fanfare a little more than two years earlier on 25 May 1971, the £2m climate-controlled building boasted restaurants and bars, an indoor heated swimming pool, saunas, a children’s theatre and an underground disco. It was billed as the most innovative indoor entertainment centre in the world and could house up to 10,000 tourists. However, the building’s exterior and interior were designed by different architects, resulting in significant fire risks that went unnoticed.

About 3,000 people were inside the complex when the blaze began, caused by a match discarded by three boys smoking in an outside kiosk.

The kiosk collapsed against the exterior of the complex, eventually igniting the highly flammable acrylic sheeting, called Oroglas and later dubbed “horrorglass”, that covered the venue. Inadequate ventilation and locked fire doors contributed to the death toll, with many forced to hurry to the main entrance, causing a crush.

The fire service was not called until more than 20 minutes after the blaze took hold. The first calls did not come from inside the complex but from a passing taxi driver, and even from a ship’s captain who spotted the billowing smoke two miles out at sea.

A public inquiry condemned the use of flammable materials in the building’s construction and the delay in evacuation. The inquiry’s report said that “a holocaust was produced” within 10 minutes of the fire igniting the roof.

Changes to regulations were enforced to improve fire safety in public buildings. The FBU’s then assistant general secretary Tom Harris demanded a comprehensive certification of building materials for the construction of entertainment and shopping complexes. He also called for fire regulations to be updated frequently.

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