Fire brigade send 80 firefighters to tackle blaze at Highbury Leisure Centre
"Everyone came out of the leisure centre in their swimming trunks," said witness
25 September, 2018 — By Emily Finch
Firefighters are dousing flames from above
DOZENS of swimmers and gym-goers were evacuated from Highbury Leisure Centre this afternoon as a fire ripped through the roof.
Witnesses living near the centre in Highbury Crescent described smelling smoke at just after 12pm before smoke engulfed the roof. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) declared the fire as “under control” at 2.47pm but crews are expected to remain at the scene until the evening.
Lawrence Crossfield, a vet who was working out of a mobile pet clinic next to the leisure centre, said: “Everyone came out of the centre in their swimming trunks at just after 12pm. At first there was just one fire engine and then about a dozen others. The swimmers were given silver towels to keep warm. It was all very calm.”
A resident, who lives in near by Highbury Place, said: “There were about 20 to 30 people rushed out from the centre. There were so many fire engines.”
Firefighters were seen using a drone to assess the damage while smoke was seen from miles away.
There are currently no reports of injuries and around 100 people were safely evacuated from the leisure centre. The Tribune understands that children from a near by primary school were using the pools at the time of the fire.
The council-owned centre is managed by Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), also known as Better, following a take-over four years ago.
The company, headquartered in Woolwich, had undertaken a £2.5million makeover at the centre back in February. As previously reported in the Tribune, residents said the building did not match plans approved by the Town Hall which were agreed with local residents and the leisure giant promised “to resolve outstanding issues relating to the exterior of the building”.
Kate Pothalingham, who lives near the centre, said she had seen workers replacing the roof tiles on the older section of the building last week.
Highbury and Islington station was temporarily closed during the fire. Stretches of Highbury Crescent and Highbury Place remain closed to cars and pedestrians.
Council leader Richard Watts, who is at the Labour party conference in Liverpool today, tweeted: “I’m keeping in touch with colleagues from Islington council about the horrible fire at Highbury Pool. London Fire Brigade still on site but no injuries thankfully. Massive thanks to Fire Brigade and Islington council staff who responded with such skill and professionalism.”
A Spokesman for GLL said: “Highbury Leisure Centre is currently closed while London Fire Brigade responds to an incident. Customers and staff were evacuated swiftly and safely. We await advice from the fire brigade on the cause of the fire.
“Updates on the re-opening of the centre will be posted on the centre’s website. Until then, Better members may use our alternative facilities in Islington or neighbouring boroughs.”
Fire crews from Islington, Holloway, Stoke Newington Paddington attended the incident. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Brigade and the Metropolitan Police Service.
The recently-refurbished roof has been damaged by flames. Photo: Highbury East Lib Dems