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1985

Fire kills 50 at soccer stadium

Fifty people die in a fire in the grandstand at a soccer stadium in Bradford, England, on this day in 1985. The wooden roof that burned was scheduled to be replaced by a steel roof later that same week.

Bradford was playing Lincoln City on the afternoon of May 11. Many fans were there to celebrate Bradford’s two-year rise from bankruptcy to the league championship and promotion to the second division. Near the end of the first half, a fire broke out at one end of the main stands. Although several fans moved onto the field to escape the flames, there was no immediate general concern.

Within minutes, though, the fire spread up the wooden roof and quickly engulfed the fans underneath. It took only four minutes for the entire roof to burn. Hundreds of people were injured in addition to the 56 who were killed. It spread like a flash. I’ve never seen anything like it. The smoke was choking. You could hardly breathe, said survivor Geoffrey Mitchell.

Still, many in the crowd did not realize the enormity of the disaster. Some young fans reportedly danced and sang in front of the raging fire while others threw stones at a television crew.

The official inquiry into the cause of the fire blamed an accumulation of garbage beneath the stands. Most likely, the fire was sparked by a cigarette. It quickly lit the old and dilapidated structure that the formerly struggling team had just found the money to replace.

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