Woolworths 1974 fire ripped out heart of the Bognor's commercial centre

SOME £2m went up in smoke when Woolworths was wrecked by fire in Bognor Regis.

The town's worst fire disaster of the century saw the heart of its commercial centre threatened with destruction.

Nearly 200 firefighters fought the inferno as they battled to save the rest of London Road from going up in flames. Thousands of shoppers watched the drama unfold. None of them have probably ever forgotten the scenes.

Every available firefighter across 50 miles of southern England was called in to help. As well as Bognor, they came from Horsham, Billingshurst, Partridge Green, Havant and Petersfield in 30 fire appliances.

They were unable to save the store and its contents from being wrecked. They also occupied the Abbey National and Interflora shops on either side but they too suffered smoke and water damage.

However, the fire crews were thanked by their bosses and civic leaders for their fine work in saving the whole of the London Road area from going up in flames. It proved an explosive time for store manager Albert Marrabie two days before his 36th birthday.

He tried tackling the blaze in its earliest moments and ended up in hospital. He said at the time: "I was told there was a fire in the toiletries section. I went and tackled it myself with a fire extinguisher, but it was so big that I had to evacuate the store. Then I tried to tackle it again, but the smoke was so overpowering that I had to leave.

"We have fire drills here and the whole store was evacuated in two or three minutes.

"I went round the sales floor in quite thick smoke and only came out when I was quite sure that there was no one in there, and I could not stand it any more."

He was taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation. Four firemen were also casualties. Colin Beech and Peter Trent received cuts and burns. William Brands and Barry Geary collapsed from exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

Three of them and Mr Marrabie were allowed home the same day. Fireman Brands was kept in overnight.

Five ambulances were sent to the fire. Another five were kept in readiness nearby.

All the houses in Bedford Street were evacuated along with the Fitzleet multi-storey car park. London Road, not yet pedestranised, was completely closed. It remained shut to traffic for at least a week.

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