A huge fire has destroyed around 1,400 vehicles in a car park near Liverpool’s Echo Arena, leaving many people stranded in the city overnight.
Witnesses described abandoning their vehicles, grabbing possessions and running for their lives after the blaze broke out in an old Land Rover and rapidly spread.
A photo taken by Sue Wright, wife of former England footballer Mark, during the blaze (Sue Wright/Frequency Media/PA)
On Monday the fire appeared to have been extinguished, leaving the charred remains of cars on the seven levels of the multi-storey car park.
There were no reported injuries but a shelter had been set up to look after many people who were unable to get home or get alternative accommodation.
The fire service said crews rescued two dogs from one of the vehicles and they are thought to have been the only animals in the car park at the time.
The fire caused the cancellation of the Liverpool International Horse Show on New Year’s Eve, which was attended by Sue Wright and her family, including former England footballer Mark.
She told how she saw an old Land Rover on level three with its engine on fire and helped to lead some of the horses to safety.
Mrs Wright said: “The flames were just shooting out of the engine and coming past the tyres. It looked like a ball of fire on the front of the car and it was producing a lot of smoke.
Fire crews at the multi storey car park (Peter Byrne/PA)
“We just left everything in the car – handbags, telephone, cash – and just went. It was all insignificant as long as everyone was OK and we could get the horses out.
“I saw one car on fire but it was clear it was ferocious and spreading.”
The fire could be seen around the waterfront (Peter Byrne/PA)
She was with her family, friends and children in an eight-seater minibus when one of their children spotted the fire and smoke.
They abandoned the minibus and got everyone to safety.
Sue Wright, with her husband Mark (Sue Wright/Frequency Media/PA)
Mrs Wright called the emergency services and rushed to the stables but she could hear “bangs and popping” as she arrived, and the horses were “spooked”.
She recalled: “The water was coming down to ground level as the firefighters were tackling the fire but it was spooking the horses.”
Mrs Wright told the grooms to bridle the horses and they managed to get them out through two exits.
A horse is led away during the Liverpool International Horse Show (Peter Byrne/PA)
Firefighters worked into the night trying to control the blaze, which began on Sunday afternoon.
Crews were first called at 4.42pm and were on scene eight minutes later.
The area was evacuated along with some apartments nearby due to smoke billowing from the blaze.
The burnt out shells of cars can be seen (Peter Byrne/PA)
Kevin Booth, 44, from Manchester, had left his six-month-old Fiat 500 X in the car park as he took his wife Julie and 16-year-old daughter Holly to see the horse show as a treat.
“The flames and the smoke was unbelievable,” Mr Booth said. “People were saying that they would just wait and get their cars back. I thought, ‘Have you seen the fire? Are you joking?’
“It was frightening, we could hear the bangs of car windows exploding.”
Kerry Matthews, 54, a warehouseman, and partner Patricia Heath, 55, an administrator, both from Wrexham, North Wales, were visiting Liverpool for the night to celebrate the new year.
He said: “A fireman said the whole car park is on fire. He said, ‘What level is your car on?’ We said six.
“He said, ‘Well you best go and have a couple of drinks to celebrate new year because you’re not going to get your car back’.”
Merseyside Police said initial investigations indicated that an “accidental fire within a vehicle caused other cars to ignite”.
“We believe that all vehicles parked in the car park have been destroyed and advise owners to contact their insurance companies,” the force said.
No-one has been seriously injured, it added.
Witnesses described grabbing possessions and running for their lives (Peter Byrne/PA)
Police advised members of the public to stay away from the area and traffic restrictions are currently in place.
A spokeswoman for the Echo Arena said the horse show was cancelled due to “a serious fire” in the multi-storey car park and that “all people and horses are safe and secure”.
The four-day event was due to finish with Sunday evening’s show, where around 4,000 people were expected.
Burnt-out cars at the multi storey car park (Peter Byrne/PA)
The Association of British Insurers said any driver whose vehicle has been damaged in the fire should get in touch with their insurance company.
A spokesman said: “Insurers’ emergency claim lines operate 365 days a year, so anyone who has been affected by this fire in Liverpool should pick up the phone to their insurer.
“Insurance is there to cover the costs of just this type of incident.”
Liverpool City Council said it had helped around 10 people who had been stranded by the fire overnight through its temporary shelter, and arranged for their onward travel.
A spokesman said: “Our advice now is for people whose cars were inside to contact their insurance company to make a claim, quoting Merseyside Police log 650 on 31/12/17.”
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson also thanked several hotels and their staff for “helping so many people”, and wrote: “And over 200 people called my office offering lifts for people. As always, Liverpool proves it’s the kindest city in the world. #soproud.”