20100511

Moments in history: Four minutes that cost 56 lives


Tragedy invariably inspires acts of humbling selflessness.  The Bradford City fire, which claimed the lives of 56 football supporters 25 years ago today, encouraged many, both on the day as survivors battled in horrifying circumstances to save the less fortunate, and subsequently.

Paul Firth, who was in the stand engulfed by the blaze with his father-in-law and a friend, found himself immersed in thick, acrid smoke and escaped only because he noticed that the choking, disorientating cloud around him seemed less black to his left than it did in the other direction and chose to go that way, which led him to the safety of the pitch.

"How I got there I've never, never known," he said in a recent interview. Given that it took only four minutes, from the first wisps of smoke as rubbish beneath the wooden stand caught light, for the whole structure to be turned into an inferno, he counts himself remarkably lucky.

Five years ago, he brought together his own recollections and those of others in a book entitled Four Minutes to Hell: The Story of the Bradford City Fire, the aim of which in part was to raise money for the Burns (continued below)

BBC TV marked the 25th anniversary of the Bradford fire with this moving film on Football Focus


Research Unit at Bradford University, which was set up in response to the Valley Parade blaze but which relies on charitable donations to keep it going.

The book contains contributions from injured survivors, from families who lost a loved one, professional footballers involved with the rescue efforts, from police officers and the surgeon in charge of treating many of the 270 who were hurt.

The way in which the Bradford community responded to the disaster, including the creation of the Burns Research Unit, is also recalled, as well as the way in which the Popplewell Inquiry changed the face of football grounds across the country.

Originally published by the now defunct Parrs Wood Press, Four Minutes to Hell raised around £2,000 towards the Unit's upkeep. Firth republished it himself in paperback in 2007.  His personal fundraising campaign included participation in the City of Salford 10k race last September, which brought in £750

Supporters of the Unit are aiming to raise £100,000. Should you wish to contribute, you can do so at http://www.justgiving.com/bcfcburnsunitappeal

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