Litany of sports stadia tragedies: The Bradford City football stadium fire on May 11, 1985 is etched in the memory of all who saw those shocking TV images. FIRE correspondent Tony Prosser looks back on stadium disasters including Ibrox, Heysal and Happy Valley in Hong Kong and the eventual impact they had on fire safety standards in sports stadia.(Operational Assurance)


THE FIRE AT VALLEY PARADE FOOTBALL stadium on May 11 1985, has a unique place in firefighting history--no amateur mobile phone pictures or shaky, hand-held video shots were necessary.


The horror was captured live on TV as Bradford City, having recently been successful in getting promoted to the Second Division (equivalent to the Championship), played Lincoln City. It starkly reminds us of the speed with which fire develops and graphically shows the consequences of failing to appreciate the dangers of fire.

The five minutes of footage that capture the period from the discovery of the fire to full involvement of the stand with images that included examples of selfless heroism, a police officer with his hair spontaneously igniting from radiated heat and stunned disbelief of victims and bystanders alike. Twenty-three years later the film still has the power to shock.

Valley Parade Tinderbox

The stadium was 77 years old and had a pitched timber roof covered with tarpaulins sealed with tar. There had been many stadia of this type in use at the time.

Valley Parade was different in one key respect in that it had been built over the side of a hill, with a significant void beneath the seating area. The rear exit corridor was at the top of the stand.

Legislation was already in place to deal with Division one and two stadia--the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 required safety certificates for all stadia with a capacity of over 10,000. The Act was introduced as a response to the Ibrox Park incident in 1971 where 66 Glasgow Rangers fans died as a result of anti-crush barriers failing during a football match. Because the Ibrox disaster was non-fire related, the local authority (the enforcing authority) was required to consult with the police service and the building control authority but not the fire authority.

The conditions in the certificate included fire prevention aspects including means of escape and the maintenance of those means of escape. Where a safety certificate was in force, the 1975 Act removed the need for the Fire Precautions Act 1971 (FPA) to apply. Section 10 of the FPA, however, could have been used by West Yorkshire Fire Authority if it had satisfied that the stadium posed an 'immediate and appreciable risk of danger' (Popplewell). …

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