In the early hours of 6 May, a fire broke out in Bristol’s Floating Harbour. It was centred on the historic Underfall Yard, a historic boat yard, with the main warehouse where they make and repair boats going up in flames. Martin Booth’s video shows the destruction at its height.
Thankfully, the Avon Fire & Rescue Service and the Avon & Somerset Police responded quickly, evacuating 20 local residence who were living nearby, either on boats or in buildings and removing anything that could feed the flames, such as a boat that was in for repair. Sadly it later sank due to damage it took from the blaze.
Help from the Bath Fire station was also called in. As the night went on, the fire was brought under control, and it became apparent that no one had died or been injured thanks to the efforts of the police and the fire crews.
When the fire was put out, it was evident that a historic part of the Floating Harbour had been lost.
A man in his 40s has since been arrested on suspicion of arson in connection to this fire.
There had been a boat yard in this part of Hotwells since 1809. It fell into disrepair after the industrial revolution but was restored in the 1990s by a group of volunteers and experts who formed the Underfall Yard Trust to do so. It has since been delighting visitors to the city. Not only is it home to a boatbuilding and repair yard, it also houses a museum, and businesses involving maritime engineering, metal working and training.
The Harbour Master and the Docks Engineer are based here too. So it’s an important hub of the Harbour for many reasons
It’s not just the loss of an important part of the Harbour, as I’ve said, this was a working boat yard. There are people whose livelihoods are now in ruins. While the Mayor has said he will “make every effort to support those affected” it’s unclear what form that support will be.
Ian Wilkinson told BBC Bristol:
“The positives are no one was killed and no one injured but we have tenants’ livelihoods in the balance. They’re highly skilled and live hand-to-mouth. Our neighbours have had their lives disrupted too and the whole Underfall Yard community is reeling”
One unnamed business owner told ITV that they had lost “everything”.
The fire has already started to affect use of the harbour. A scheduled wild swim trial was cancelled due to debris in the water and images online also show pollution affecting the water.
Thankfully, the Trust is already making plans to restore the listed site to its former glory, with the City Council and Mayor also saying it would work with the relevant people to rebuild here.
The Underfall Yard Trust issued this statement committing to rebuilding the Yard.
Meanwhile, the recently elected Hotwells and Harbourside councillor Patrick McAllister told West England Bylines:
Investigations are still ongoing as to the cause of the Underfall Yard fire, although I have seen that a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson. I wish the police well in their investigations, and hope that if the fire was started deliberately that any culprit faces swift and appropriate justice.
I do not know what the future plans are for Underfall Yard; this is down to the Underfall Yard Trust, but I am fully behind them and will give all the support I can to any rebuilding efforts.
Whilst we should all be thankful that nobody was injured, and grateful to the emergency services who prevented the fire from becoming even worse, my heart goes out to those who have lost their boats and livelihoods in this disaster. I understand that insurance teams are assessing the situation now, and I very much hope that the payments are quick and uncomplicated.
Rebuilding the Underfall Yard seems to be on the cards. We can only hope this is done swiftly, not just for the sake of the history, but for the sake of the people whose lives are affected.
If you have been affected by the incident, local councillors Patrick McAllister and Ani Stafford-Townsend are standing by to help in whatever way they can. And if you know anything about what started the fire, please contact the police to aid in their investigations.
You can also help the Underfall Yard Trust by donating to their website to help fund the repair costs.
Another victim of the fire, who made art with blacksmithing, has also published a crowdfunder here.
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