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Sunny day that turned to night.

Byline: Tony Pogson ,

Fifty years ago this Sunday in a field at Deighton three teenage boys lit a fire in a tin. They let the tin drop when it became hot and apparently it ignited some napthalene residue.

The result was spectacular. Flames soon spread across several acres which had been used as a chemical tip by local dye firm LB Holliday and Co Ltd.

But the most obvious effect was the smoke. Black smoke belched out like a volcano to a height "well over 100ft", an Apocolapytic vision that turned day into night, "atomic mushroom clouds" that travelled as far as Dewsbury before dispersing.

Perhaps one local, Mr G E Cartwright of Dalton, was right when he reported seeing the blaze 26 miles away in Knottingley.

The Examiner called it "the biggest fire for 14 years" - since the notorious Booth's fire in October 1941 in which 49 lives were lost.

This time, fortunately, no-one died although four cottages were burned out and nine residents, many of them elderly, lost their homes, and many others had to evacuate their homes until it was deemed safe to go back.

It certainly did not help that the fire was located between Deighton Road and the new Bradley housing estate.

At one point a "river of liquid fire" spread through a culvert, under Leeds Road to a point near the railway line. Eight firemen (one from Hollidays' works brigade) and a policeman were treated for burns.

One fireman said it was the worst fire and the hottest he had met since serving in Hull during the Second World War blitz.

Then, as now, there were many who wanted to see the spectacle - no matter how much it hampered the rescue efforts.

Crowds lined Dalton Bank to watch, despite the danger of explosions. An ice-cream seller was doing a lively trade, parking spots near the blaze were at a premium and a police sergeant said: "It's just like a football crowd."

But there were also heroes.

L W McLean of Sheepridge first noted the fire and called for help. When the brigade arrived, he helped to fight it with a spare hose until the water stopped when the hose behind him had burned away and - all in his best clothes - he returned with a foam extinguisher before having to stop, dizzy, dazed and exhausted after three hours.

Brian Farren, of Bradley, had been married just a fortnight and was on the last day of his honeymoon leave from the RAF.

He and his wife Brenda fled from rented accommodation on the other side of Leeds Road from where homes were lost, hastily throwing items of uniform and the top tier of the wedding cake into a case. Later he had to explain to his commanding officer about the fire ...

And then there was Peter Stringer, a keen photographer who answered a call to help from his Round Table chairman.

He captured many stunning shots of the drama and when he himself was caught on film after rescuing Miss Noeline Corney he had a clothes basket under one arm and the trusty camera slung around his neck.

When it was all over, the recriminations started and there was the classic sound of stable doors being locked long after the horse had bolted.

An essential element in fighting the fire had been the 2,785 gallons of foam-making compound (at a then-significant cost of pounds 1,550) brought in relays from Yeadon airport by RAF servicemen.

Tenants said they had been complaining about the tip for six years. It was agreed that a high fence should be built round the tip, with an hourly patrol by Holliday employees.

But Major LB Holliday, managing director of LB Holliday and Co Ltd, said when the firm started to tip at Deighton it was open countryside. The firm stopped using the tip in 1951 after a period of 40 years.

Because the council had later decided to build a council estate there he thought they should stand half the cost of fencing off the tip.

There were reports from the Forensic Science Laboratory on "the nature and chemical properties" of the material found on the tip. But whatever they did find was never made public knowledge.

It became painfully obvious that Huddersfield Borough Council were totally unaware of precisely what chemicals were on the tip. But there was a tar-like residue left after the blaze and residents spoke of a smell like firelighters.

Questions were asked in council about why action had not been taken under the Public Health Act 1936, the Alkali Works Regulation Act 1906 and the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

The answers showed that they had been hamstrung in each case.

Huddersfield East MP Mr J P W Mallalieu called it a public scandal and worried about the wider implications of "other places throughout the country where similar private, uninspected tips are being allowed to pollute the atmosphere and to be a standing danger to life and property."
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 23, 2005
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