Eighteen families were left homeless after a fire at a warehouse engulfed their houses. Eight people were taken to hospital and more than 100 residents of Lightfoot Road, Chester, were evacuated as the blaze destroyed a Pickfords storage depot on the neighbouring Hoole Bridge industrial estate.
“The houses spontaneously combusted because of the intense heat,” said a Cheshire Fire Service spokeswoman.
On 24th October 1996, one of Chester’s worst fires ever engulfed Pickford’s storage warehouse and led to the destruction of much of Lightfoot Street. Pickford’s was never rebuilt and the site is presently occupied by a development of flats named Thomas Brassey Close after the railway engineer.
The fire seems to have started around midnight, and many local residents at first thought that the bangs and pops as the roof of the warehouse caught fire were fireworks. Shortly thereafter, the bangs became louder and more frequent at least one resident thought that a local newsagent (who sold fireworks) must be on fire. However it soon became clear that the fire was at Pickfords and many residents telephoned the local emergency services. Thanks to their prompt action no-one was badly hurt.
Pickford’s warehouse was a large storage facility and was packed with furniture and other inflammable materials. No-one is quite sure how the fire started and the newspapers of the time carried speculation about causes ranging from electrical faults to arson. The fire quickly became was well established and may at its peak have achieved significant but localised firestorm effects. The heat of the fire was so great that at least 18 dwellings on the opposite side of Lightfoot Street were set alight and many others were badly damaged. Fortunately, many of the residents were able to escape to the rear of their properties (or be rescued that way) and the licensee of a local pub (the Beehive) opened her doors to provide shelter to the victims. At least 20 appliances attended the fire.
The following morning, as the Fire Brigade were damping down the last small fires, the full scale of the devastation was apparent to anyone travelling through Chester Station. Pickford’s warehouse was gone, and Lightfoot Street looked like something out of the Blitz. Everything was black and grey with the only splash of colour being a burned out removal van still bearing the words ‘Pickford’s The Careful Movers’.