Published 4 August 2023

NFCC reflects on 50th anniversary of Summerland tragedy

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This week marks the 50th anniversary of what some people regard as a forgotten tragedy.

On 2 August 1973, 50 people, including 11 children, died when fire broke out in the Summerland Leisure Complex on the Isle of Man.  A further 80 people were seriously injured.

An investigation found the cause of the fire to be a discarded cigarette which set fire to a disused kiosk on the site. The scale of the disaster was largely due to the use of non-fire-resistant materials, including Galbestos and Oroglas, on the internal and external walls. As the fire spread inside, it met the Oroglas which began melting with molten plastic; the result was the roof burning out extremely quickly, fatally injuring those people below.

Across the whole of this week, memorial events have taken place across the island to pay tribute to those who lost their lives, lost loved ones or were injured in the tragedy. These have included services at the nearby Kaye Memorial Garden in Douglas, and at the Summerland site itself.

One person for whom this anniversary week particularly resonates is Ian Brandwood, a senior manager with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Ian said: “This week seems an appropriate time for the fire community to remember those affected by the tragedy and also to remember those firefighters who fought courageously on that evening to minimise the loss of life in almost impossible conditions.

“It is particularly poignant for me as my partner was one of those seriously injured; she also lost her mother and her friend Jane in the fire.”

NFCC Chair Mark Hardingham added: “My thoughts go out to all those people who were so tragically affected by the events of 2 August, 50 years ago – and who continue to be affected.

“The scale of the fire at Summerland – one of the biggest indoor leisure complexes in Europe at the time – is hard to comprehend, and I can only imagine what the firefighters, police officers and ambulance crews were faced with when they arrived at such a scene of devastation and heartbreak.”

Isle of Man Chief Fire Officer Mark Christian said: “My thoughts this week have been with the family and friends of those who died in the Summerland tragedy and those who were injured and still carry the physical and mental scars from that evening, including many of my former colleagues.

“I was pleased to see that, as part of the anniversary events this week, the contributions of the emergency services and healthcare workers in responding to the Summerland fire disaster have been formally recognised at the special ceremony on the Isle of Man.

“The courage, dedication and swift response of fire crews undoubtedly prevented many more casualties, and this week is a poignant reminder of the valuable work of our emergency services, and the hugely challenging situations in which they play such a pivotal and potentially life-saving role.”