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Berkshire and Reading Fire Brigade was formed in 1948 and was later renamed in 1974 to Royal Berkshire Fire Brigade.

The organisation, was established following centuries of evolution in firefighting strategy across the UK and renamed Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service in 1985. The fire service was then removed from local authority control in 1998 and was placed under the direction of an independent Royal Berkshire Fire Authority – which is made up of representatives from the county’s six unitary authorities.

MAJOR INCIDENTS

To find out further information about some of the major fire and rescue incidents in Berkshire please select the toggles below.

Windsor Castle fire 1992

The Fire

In 1992, Windsor Castle suffered severe damage in a fire, which destroyed some of the most historic parts of the building. Windsor Castle is known as the largest inhabited castle in the world and is one of the official residences of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Control room was alerted to a blaze in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle at 11.37am on Friday 20 November. Five Berkshire appliances and two senior officers were immediately mobilised.

It is believed that the fire was started by a spotlight igniting a curtain. The fire spread rapidly, assisted by the building’s materials and the high level ceiling void of the 185ft St George’s Hall.

A command decision was taken to create fire breaks at the Clock and Chester Towers, and to let the fire to vent through the roof areas in order to prevent further horizontal spread.

End of the Blaze

The blaze was contained and extinguished after many hours of arduous and difficult firefighting, informed by a well-rehearsed strategy. Pre-planning and regular exercising covering the site’s access, water supplies and salvage procedures allowed much of the castle and its contents to be preserved from damage.

Ultimately, 36 pumping appliances, seven specialist units, 25 officers and more than 200 firefighters were deployed before the fire was deemed to be fully under control. Containment was achieved within five hours, but the weight of attack was maintained for a further eight hours before the operations started scaling down.

Use of resources

Windsor Castle fire 1992At the height of the incident, water from 31 jets and from monitors on two hydraulic platforms with a turntable ladder were used to contain the fire. These were kept supplied by private hydrants in a reservoir, an auxiliary main from the River Thames, a swimming pool and the town’s mains.

Extensive use of breathing apparatus (BA) was also required and it was estimated that 80 BA wearers were at one time deployed simultaneously, with 750 cylinders being used over the duration of the incident. Emergency evacuation procedures had to be adopted twice during the incident because of fears for the safety of crews who were committed inside the building during floor and roof collapses.

Fire crews from London, Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire joined the response to sustain the weight of attack and maintain fire cover across the county.

After the fire

Five firefighters were taken to hospital from effects of dealing with the fire, while a further three were treated by Royal Ambulance Service personnel on site.

Extensive salvage work was initiated by castle staff and, under the direction of fire service officers, continued throughout firefighting operations to allow most of the valuable items and irreplaceable artefacts to be removed safely before the roof collapsed in parts of the building.

The Brunswick and Chester Towers, Red, Green and White Drawing Rooms, State Dining Room, Private Chapel, Grand Reception Room and St George’s Hall were all severely damaged in the fire, however the unique Waterloo Chamber and the Ante and Garter Throne Rooms remained virtually undamaged thanks to firefighters’ proficient response to the emergency. In total, more than 100 rooms were said to have been damaged.

The restoration

A £36.5 million repair project has returned the castle to its former glory, with £15 million-worth of fire prevention equipment added to its defenses to avoid a repeat of the blaze.

How it happened

Ufton Nervet rail crash 2004

On Saturday 6 November 2004 at 6:12pm, a First Great Western train travelling from London Paddington to Plymouth hit a stationary car with a driver inside at an automatic level crossing.

The train was travelling between Theale and Aldermaston stations when it collided with the vehicle on a narrow lane linking the village of Ufton Nervet to the A4 Bath Road. An inquest held in 2007 concluded that the accident was caused by the driver of the car, who committed suicide by parking on the level crossing.

The incident

All eight coaches of the Class 43 High Speed Train (HST), 43019, derailed in the incident. The rear of the 220m-long train came to rest approximately 100m beyond the crossing.

Six people were killed in the crash, including the car’s driver, the driver of the train, and five of its passengers. Around 200 passengers were aboard at the time of the incident, with around half injured and 12 of them seriously injured. Firefighters cut 11 people free from the wreckage.

Accident investigation and necessary repairs blocked the main railway route between London and the West Country until the morning of 16th November.

A small gravelled area has been made beside the level crossing with two wooden benches facing an engraved steel plaque in memory of those affected by the collision.

The fire

Swinley Forest Fire 2011The Swinley Forest fire was the largest incident, in terms of resources and length of operations, ever dealt with by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service. The forest fire affected 300 hectares of land,  55% of which was damaged by fire and forestry clearing operations.

The woodland is a mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest near Crowthorne and Winkfield, with a majority owned and managed by the Forestry Commission and other areas owned by Crown Estates.

The fire started on Monday 2 May 2011 and forced homes to be evacuated and roads to close as it spread quickly through the dry undergrowth.

Resources used

Resources used by fire crews included 18 jets, 21 hose reels, two High Volume Pumps with 6.5km water relays, seven Water Bowsers, four portable dams, an Urban Search and Rescue Module and a military fuel tanker.

A dozen fire and rescue services (including London, Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, West Midlands, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire plus wildfire experts from Northumberland) supported the operation.

A Stop message, sent when the fire was largely extinguished apart from underground hotspots, was issued at 5.43pm on Sunday 8 May.

After the fire

Around 51,000 trees has been replanted since the fire and deliberately spaced to prevent future flames jumping from tree to tree as they had in the incident.

Choose from the images below to view Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s response to the fire and the aftermath on the forest floor.

Click through the images of historical firefighting above or have a look through our fire station pages here.