Firefighters have confirmed that the large fire observed in Durham on Wednesday afternoon was situated in a cavity wall to the exterior of one of the buildings, with insulation in the 200 metre long boundary wall catching fire. An investigation has been launched into the exact cause of the incident.
All roads had reopened by midday yesterday after two fire crews remained overnight and into Thursday morning to ensure the safety of the site.
Firefighters were called to a large fire at the Millburn construction site just after 2pm Wednesday. Tolent, the developers of the Millburngate construction site opposite Durham station, confirmed that everyone on site had been evacuated and the site was closed to allow fire crews to deal with the blaze.
Eight crews from Durham, Spennymoor, High Handenhold and Newton Aycliffe attended the scene, along with several ambulances. No one was seriously hurt, but two people, a construction worker and a firefighter, were taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Firefighters battled the blaze for seven hours.
Andy Mills, 49, was working on the site and provided an eyewitness account. He told the Sunderland Echo: “All of a sudden it just went ‘whoosh’ with massive black clouds of smoke. We were on the third floor, the alarm had been sounded by then so we ran out to get to the muster point.
“It happened so quickly, it was unreal. I’ve never seen anything like it how fast it went up, really fast. We couldn’t breathe when running down the stairs and had to cover our faces. Luckily enough everyone I know got out safely.
“With it happening so quickly you don’t realise. We just ran to get out. It was very, very scary.”
Major roads including North Road, Millburngate Bridge, Crossgate Peth and Claypath were closed for hours as firefighters dealt with the incident, causing a build up of traffic. The Eastbound carriageway of Millburngate Bridge and Framwellgate Perth remained closed overnight and into the morning.
Road closures meant that bus services were unable to get through, with Arriva North East reporting that services in the Durham area are subject to delays. People gathered by the police cordon on North Road, and by Millburgate bridge, with many struggling to get home due to road closures and bus delays.
Smoke could be seen across the city, and local residents were asked to close their windows and doors due to the toxic fumes caused by the fire.
Just after 4pm, the fire service confirmed that earlier reports of an explosion had been false: “There are currently eight crews at scene of a fire at the Milburngate development in Durham City.
“We would like to confirm there are no reports of an explosion and our crews are dealing with a large fire in the construction site.”
The Milburngate development began two years ago, and is a joint venture between Arlington Real Estate and the Richardson family. The £150 million scheme includes 153 apartments, a 92-bed Premier Inn hotel, and 5,000 square metres of offices.
In 2019, Arlington Managing Director Allan Cook said the development was of ‘regional significance’ and would address the need for residential, leisure and office space in Durham. Milburngate was due for completion early next year. The impact of the fire on the development’s progress is not yet known.
The site was only sparsely staffed today, with items such as pieces of clothing left behind from the evacuation still visible where workers had left them in a hurry to get out.
The fire service’s response was praised by Mary Kelly Foy, MP for the City of Durham. She said: “I’d like to thank the emergency services for the swiftly organised response to the fire at the Milburngate development.
“Huge disruption was caused but it was dealt with professionally and quickly.”
Ms Foy also welcomed the news of an investigation into the cause of the fire.