29th October 1879
St Helier is ablaze
“But soon it became evident that the building was doomed. The flames were bursting through four windows, the premises being literally wrapped in fire.” So wrote a reporter for the British Press, quoted in Guernsey’s The Star, after witnessing a great conflagration in St Helier. No 12 Esplanade had caught fire some time in the later afternoon but nobody had paid the smell of smoke any attention, having been fooled by a similar smell the week before which turned out to be coming from some houses.
This time, it was a whole lot more serious. What was burning wasn’t wood in a grate, but a warehouse containing empty drinks bottles, six tons of potatoes and apples that had been packed for export to the mainland.
The fire gets worse
Residents from neighbouring houses and businesses did their best to put out the fire using buckets of water but, realising they were getting nowhere, called the fire service, which arrived eventually – after breaking down – and with a leaky hose that couldn’t pump the water quickly enough to prevent the flames from making rapid progress through the building and up to the roof.
News spread and spectators arrived by foot and train. Fortunately, the way the wind was blowing confined the fire to the warehouse and saved nearby buildings, but it wasn’t good news for number 12 which was gutted despite the arrival of 50 soldiers from Fort Regent. A similar fire 12 years later once again required assistance from soldiers stationed at the Fort.
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