Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Summerland Disaster occurred on the night of August 2, 1973. Fifty-one people were killed and eighty seriously injured when a fire spread through the Summerland leisure centre in Douglas on the Isle of Man.
Summerland was opened in 1972. A climate-controlled building covering 3.5 acres (14,000 m²) on Douglas's waterfront, it had 50,000 ft² of floors and cost £2 million GBP. It was designed to accommodate up to 10,000 tourists and offered a dance area, five floors of holiday games, restaurants and a public bar. It was a 1970s concrete design but the street frontage and part of the roof were clad in a translucent acrylic sheeting.
The fire started around 19h30 in a small kiosk adjacent to the centre's mini-golf course. Eventually the burning kiosk slumped against the exterior of the building. The acrylic sheeting proved highly flammable and the fire spread quickly across the sheeting on the walls and roof. The acrylic melted, which allowed more oxygen to enter and dropped burning material, both starting other fires and injuring those trying to escape. The interior sound-proofing material was also particularly flammable and the building's design included many unblocked internal spaces that acted as chimneys.
Despite being aware of the blaze, the fire services were not called for almost thirty minutes, and even then the call did not originate from the centre. There was no attempt to evacuate the 3,000 people present until the visible evidence of the flames prompted a panic-stricken rush for the exits, where many people were crushed and trampled.
The death-toll brought about a public inquiry which ran from September 1973 to February 1974. No specific individuals or groups were blamed and the deaths were attributed to misadventure: the delay in evacuation and the building materials were condemned. and changes to building regulations to improve fire safety were introduced.
The centre was seriously damaged by the fire. It was demolished, rebuilt on a smaller scale, and re-opened in 1978.
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