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Sunday, 8 December, 2002, 18:18 GMT
Edinburgh fire 'could last for days'
A firefighter tackles the blaze with Edinburgh University in the background
Local residents had to be evacuated from the area
A major fire in Edinburgh's historic Old Town may not be fully extinguished for another two days, fire chiefs have said.

The blaze, which broke out on Saturday evening above a nightclub in the Cowgate area, took fire crews more than 18 hours to bring under control.

However, pockets of fires burning within the complex network of business and residential properties could take days to put out.

Several properties have been burnt out by the blaze, including the famous Gilded Balloon comedy venue, and firefighters fear some could collapse.

Fire Edinburgh
More than 100 firefighters tackled the blaze
Efforts to stop the fire from spreading to other buildings in the area, including the architecturally significant Adam House, appear to have been successful, although the properties are smoke-damaged.

While firefighters continue to work on shoring up the area, roads will remain closed, promising traffic chaos on Monday.

The fire started at about 2015 GMT on Saturday above La Belle Angele nightclub, located behind the Gilded Balloon.

It spread rapidly from a shaft, up through the seven-storey building, affecting residential and commercial premises on various street levels of the Old Town.

The city's Old Town district has been designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Many of the buildings dating from the medieval period, it is built on a ridge topped by Edinburgh Castle.

The nearby Royal Mile area is a magnet for tourists and sightseers from around the world and the Cowgate is popular with clubbers.

Councillor Bill Cunningham said that if the fire had started later in the evening it could have been much more dangerous as the nightclubs in the area would have been packed.

Firefighters tackle the blaze
The area is a magnet for tourists
"There would have been hundreds of people down there. We are very lucky indeed that it started early and was caught early and the place was closed off."

Assistant firemaster Del Simpson, of Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade, said it had been a "very serious fire" but it was now under control.

But he added: "There are pockets of fires burning throughout the buildings but these pockets are deep-seated because a lot of debris has been falling on to the top of them so water is not getting to them."

He said crews were standing by in nearby Chambers Street in case high gusts of wind reignited the flames.

Collapse risk

The narrow streets and network of commercial premises had made the blaze very difficult for the firefighters to tackle, he said.

Mr Simpson also said there was a danger that the buildings could collapse.

"Some of the floors have collapsed and this has made the actual gable ends and the frontage of the buildings quite unsteady," Mr Simpson said.

An eight-day walkout by firefighters had been due to begin last Wednesday but was called off by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Andy Gilchrist to allow for talks at conciliation service Acas.

Mr Simpson suggested that the army, who provide cover during the strikes, would have struggled to deal with the blaze had the firefighters been on strike.

He said: "We have been using specialist high appliances to tackle the fire which have greater height than anything the army has.

"So it is fair to say that the fire from the army's point of view would have been very difficult indeed."

At the height of the blaze 19 fire appliances were involved along with four high level appliances from across Lothian and Borders and other areas.

The local authority placed 54 people in emergency accommodation and a number of students were also evacuated.

The BBC's Colin Blane in Edinburgh
"The night sky above Edinburgh was illuminated by the blaze"
Assistant Firemaster Del Simpson
"The fire involves 13 premises"

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08 Dec 02 | Scotland
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