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Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service remembers the Windsor Castle Fire on its 30th anniversary

RBFRS crews in attendance at Windsor Castle fire

This year marks 30years since the fire at Windsor Castle that broke out on the morning of Friday, 20 November 1992.

Firefighters from six counties, including Berkshire, London, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire were sent to the scene to tackle the fire.

They worked for around nine hours to bring the fire under control using firefighting jets, aerial appliances and cutting fire breaks in the thick lead-covered roofs. Thanks to their skill, courage and tenacity they succeeded in bringing the main fire under control, although the teams continued for another three hours before the fire was finally extinguished.

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. 

This 30-year anniversary is particularly poignant as it falls so close to the sad death of Her Late Majesty, and her platinum jubilee celebrations. Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was in residence at the time of the fire in 1992, and some Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue (RBFRS) staff had the honour of meeting Her Late Majesty.  

Her Late Majesty the Queen with Assistant Chief Fire Officer Lynn Ashfield
Her Late Majesty the Queen with Assistant Chief Fire Officer Lynn Ashfield

Devastation caused by the fire at Windsor Castle
Devastation caused by the fire at Windsor Castle

To remember this historic incident, some of our staff have been recollecting their memories of being at the incident early in their career and paid tribute to Her Late Majesty.

Lee Arslett was a Communications Technician, called to support the incident late that afternoon to relieve his manager, monitoring and replenishing the communications radios being used by firefighting crews. He said: “One of the biggest challenges was maintaining effective communications. My focus was on what my role would be and how I would find my way around such a large site.”

Paul Thomas, Group Manager West Hub, has just been awarded his 30 year Long Service Good Conduct medal, but was just six weeks into his firefighting career when he was called to the Windsor Castle Fire from Dee Road Fire Station, Reading, he said: “I always remember getting taken up on the Hydraulic Platform, over the top of the building. It was just completely glowing red inside and the Brunswick Tower was just like a huge candle. It was highlighted over the night sky and I’ll never forget that.”

“It’s fantastic to see it all rebuilt because, at the time, you’d imagine ‘how is anyone going to get this back to its original state from the amount of damage that was caused.’ It’s incredible how they’ve put it back together – it looks exactly the same as it did.”

Phil Knight, Station Manager at Newbury Fire Station, recalls attending the fire early in his career, “It’s one of those jobs, I’ve had many, but it’s one that stands out.”

“I remember at Windsor Fire Station we all went up the tower to have a look at the Castle and you could see the plume of smoke coming from the Castle. The streets of Windsor were lined with people, and I was quite amazed at the way they were clapping. That was quite nice I felt, the public cheering us on.”

Tracy Hawkins with Queen's Jubilee Medal

Tracy Hawkins, Health and Safety Manager

Tracy has shared her experience of working in Fire Control on Friday, 20 November 1992.

In 1992, I was a member of Red Watch in Fire Control and was on duty on the day of the fire. It was a fairly quiet morning up to the point that we got ‘the’ call.

Back then, certain sensitive addresses in the county had a direct telephone line in to the control room, and every morning they would do a test call to the control room to check the line was working. Typically it was a short conversation ‘morning, Windsor Castle here, just testing’, and that was that until the next day.

At the time we were notified of the fire, I was having my break. Prior to the move to a combined Thames Valley Fire Control Room, watches were much smaller as we only covered Berkshire, there were five on a watch with only four positions, so there were often only two in the control room during break times.

When staff were having breaks and it got busy, a recall button was used to call people back in to control room (we were only next door). The recall button went and myself and my colleague returned to the control room.  There was disbelief as we were told ‘it’s Windsor Castle, and it’s not a test’.

To read Tracy’s full story, please visit this page.

Chief Fire Officer Wayne Bowcock said: “It is difficult to believe that 30 years have passed since this monumental incident, which is undoubtedly one of the most significant that Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service has dealt with.

“I was a trainee firefighter on my initial training course at the time and I remember it well. We watched the news together in awe as trainees and instructors, talking about how sad it was for Windsor Castle and the royal family – and how we would go about tackling such a large incident in an iconic heritage building.”

“It is testimony to the skill of the firefighters in attendance that the incident was managed safely and there were no serious injuries to staff at the Castle or within the Fire and Rescue services.”