15 Most Disastrous Fires in UK History
In this article, we list the United Kingdom’s 15 most devastating fires by the death toll.
15. Booth’s Clothing Factory Fire
The fire was caused by a smoker’s pipe left alight inside a raincoat pocket when work had just commenced. It destroyed the building and killed 49, most of them women and young girls. Many were left trapped in the upper floors of the five storey building as it did not have a fire escape.
Death Toll: 49
14. Summerland Fire Disaster
The Summerland disaster occurred when a fire spread through the Summerland leisure centre in Douglas on the Isle of Man on the night of 2 August 1973. 50 people were killed and eighty seriously injured. The scale of the fire has often been compared to those suffered during the Blitz. The fire was caused by three boys who were smoking in a small, disused kiosk adjacent to the centre’s miniature golf course.
Location: Isle of Man
Death Toll: 50
Footage from the Summerland Fire Disaster
13. Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum Fire
In 1896, a temporary building of wood and corrugated iron was erected to house 320 chronic and infirm female patients in five dormitories, despite warnings from the Commissioners in Lunacy that this would pose a serious fire risk. On 27 January 1903, the building was destroyed by a fire which claimed 52 lives.
Death Toll: 51
12. Great Fire of Newcastle and Gateshead
The Great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead was a tragic and spectacular series of events starting on Friday 6 October 1854, in which a substantial amount of property in the two North East of England towns was destroyed in a series of fires and and explosions.
11. Bradford City Stadium Fire
Five minutes before half-time of a fixture between Bradford City and Lincoln City on Saturday, 11 May 1985, the first sign of a fire was noticed three rows from the back of block G. The Valley Parade stadium was known for its antiquated design and facilities, including the wooden roof of the main stand. In less than four minutes, in windy conditions, it had engulfed the whole stand, trapping some people in their seats. In the panic that ensued, fleeing crowds had to break down locked exits to escape, and many were burnt to death at the turnstiles, which were also locked.
Death Toll: 56
Bradford City Stadium Fire Video
Warning: Viewers discretion is advised due to scenes of human suffering.
10. Mauricewood Colliery Disaster
On 5 September 1889 at around noon sections of the wood lining of the Mauricewood Colliery ignited, and the ensuing fire spread to a nearby coal seam. The underground fire took four days to extinguish.
Death Toll: 63
9. Grenfell Tower Fire
The Grenfell Tower fire broke out on 14 June 2017 at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of public housing flats. It caused at least 72 deaths. Police and fire services believe the fire started accidentally in a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. The rapid growth of the fire is thought to have been accelerated by the building’s exterior cladding, which at the time was of a common type in widespread use.
Death Toll: 72
8. Udston Mining Disaster
The Udston mining disaster occurred in Hamilton, Scotland on Saturday, 28 May 1887 when 73 miners died in a firedamp explosion at Udston Colliery. The explosion is said to be Scotland’s second-worst coal mining disaster.
Death Toll: 73
7. Burwell Barn Fire
On 8 September 1727, a puppet show visited Burwell and put on a show, after the barn had filled with an audience from Burwell and surrounding villages, the doors were nailed shut to prevent further people getting in. One person who could not get into the barn sat with a candle lantern and peered in to watch the show. However, the person accidentally knocked the lantern into the barn, setting fire to the hay within.
Death Toll: 78
6. Felling Mine Disaster
The Felling Colliery (also known as Brandling Main) suffered four disasters: 1812, 1813, 1821 and 1847. By far the worst of the four was the 1812 disaster which claimed 92 lives on 25 May 1812. The loss of life in the 1812 disaster was one of the motivators for the development of the miners’ safety lamp.
Location: County Durham
Death Toll: 92
5. Piper Alpha
Piper Alpha was an oil production platform in the North Sea approximately 120 miles (190 km) north-east of Aberdeen, Scotland, an explosion and resulting oil and gas fires destroyed Piper Alpha on 6 July 1988, killing 167 people.
Location: North-east of Aberdeen
Death Toll: 167
Explosion in the North Sea (Piper Alpha) Documentary
4. Clifton Hall Colliery Disaster
On 18 June 1885, an explosion in the Trencherbone mine killed 178 men and boys. It is thought that the explosion was caused by firedamp igniting on contact with a candle.
Death Toll: 178
3. Theatre Royal
A fire on 5 September 1887 became the worst theatre fire in British history. The fire broke out backstage where gas lighting ignited some gauze. The number of exits from the gallery of the auditorium proved to be inadequate, and in the resultant panic amongst the audience, 186 people died.
Death Toll: 186
2. Albion Colliery Disaster
At 4 o’clock on Saturday 23 June 1894, the night shift had just begun, and the workers were clearing dust and repairing underground roadways when a massive explosion on the Groves level occurred. Ignition of coal dust caused the fire following an explosion of firedamp, which killed 290 men and boys.
Location: Cilfynydd, one mile north of Pontypridd
Death Toll: 290
1. 1212 Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of 1212 also known as “the Great Fire of Suthwark”, began on 10 July 1212 in Southwark, the borough directly to the south of London Bridge. Strong southerly winds pushed flames towards the bridge, which also caught fire. London Bridge itself survived the blaze after being rebuilt in stone. Some estimates put the number of people killed on London Bridge alone at 3,000, and this figure appears in the Guinness Book of Records, although it is not contemporary.
Death Toll: 3,000