Yesterday (Wednesday) marked the 10th anniversary of one of the biggest fires in recent memory in Melton - the blaze which destroyed most of the borough council offices site on Nottingham Road.
At the height of the fire, there were 11 crews of firefighters from throughout Leicestershire battling the flames after smoke was initially seen billowing from the building around 7am.
Police cordoned off the road and instructed residents not to open their windows as it quickly became clear that this was a major incident.
One of the first on the scene was firefighter Simon Lee, who was coming to the end of his shift at Melton Fire Station, when his appliance was deployed to the council offices after an automatic fire alarm went off.
A decade on, Simon, who is still on-call at Melton and is also now a crew manager with the Market Harborough brigade, told the Melton Times this week: “There were no obvious flames when we arrived as the first appliance.
“There was smoke issuing out of the building towards Staveley Road and when we went round the back it was clear that this was a developing fire and we needed to get quick access to water and lots of it.
“By the time we got everything in place, the flames became more apparent and it was clear that it wasn’t safe for us to commit to the inside of the building.
“The fire took hold on the first floor and we could see flames rolling through the building.”
Within 15 minutes, a second fire engine arrived from Oakham and others quickly followed from Loughborough and Leicester.
The neighbouring cattle market helped firefighters tackle the blaze by giving them access to a 100,000-litre tank of water used for washing down after market day.
“We had crews arriving with compressed air foam, which was relatively new at the time and which really helped with dealing with the fire, and aerial ladders,” Simon, who retains a clear memory of that day.
“I remember there was quite a big crowd of people gathering on Nottingham Road behind the police cordon trying to get a look at what was going on.”
Simon remembers spending about two-and-a-half hours at the scene before being relieved by colleagues coming on shift.
He added: “It was quite a busy day for me as I went to pick up a new car straight after my shift and then I went down to Cardiff later on that day for a stag do.
“I’ve been in the fire service 18 years and I remember some other big fires in the area, like the ones at the Wetherspoons pub, Asfordby Storage and Haulage and Wilkinsons, but the council fire was one of the biggest I can remember.”
Malise Graham was leader of the council at the time and he remembers being in the bath on the morning the blaze broke out.
“Councillor Joe Orson rang me and asked if I knew that smoke had been seen coming out of the council chamber,” he recalled.
“I didn’t realise how serious it was until I got on site.
“There were only a couple of fire engines there at the time but it quickly became apparent that the devastation was going to be quite big.
“A lot of us found it quite exciting because working in local government is not always the most thrilling of things.”
Councillor Graham, who is still a member of the council after serving more than 30 years, is proud of the way staff rallied around to keep services going for the borough in the wake of the fire.
Leading figures, including chief executive Lynn Aisbett, gathered with Councillor Graham in a makeshift council HQ in the Market Tavern at Melton Cattle Market.
Staff were eventually relocated temporarily to offices at Pera and the Melton Building Society, when it was based on Leicester Road.
“I remember the complete shock of finding the council offices ablaze but I also remember the magnificence of the way our staff reacted - it happened on the Friday and we were open for business again on the Monday,” recalled Councillor Graham.
Remarkably most things of value were recovered unharmed from the ashes of the building, including the council’s Royal Charter document and photographs of every Mayor going back in history.
Councillor Graham remembers the moment he walked back inside the charred remains of the building a few days after the blaze, adding: “It was depressing.
“It was smoky and you could see clearly the ravages of the fire. But we were just fortunate that no-one was injured and we didn’t lose too many important artefacts.”
Fire investigators later found that the blaze was caused by an electrical fault in the roof space, either from a light fitting or an extractor fan.
It was eventually decided to demolish two-thirds of the council offices with the remaining third converted into what is now Phoenix House, where council services such as Me and My Learning are based, along with the driving test centre and The Venue youth club.
The council eventually relocated to a new £5.6million building on Burton Street, opening for business there in 2011.