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In the early hours of Monday 9 July 1984 York Minster was struck by lightning and suffered one of the worst cathedral fires of modern times. The damage that was done in just a few hours took over 4 years to be rebuilt and restored.
This year, we will be commemorating the 40th anniversary of that night, remembering the devastation and celebrating the dedicated and talented individuals who helped to rebuild and restore the awe-inspiring cathedral we see today.
New events to mark the anniversary will be added to this page.
The Alarm is Raised
At 2.30am on the morning of Monday 9 July, fire alarms ring out at the Minster, automatically alerting North Yorkshire Fire Services who dispatched a team to tackle the blaze.
The officer in charge could see at once that the fire was well established in the roof and had penetrated downwards through the vaulting.
A Mammoth Task
Molten lead and debris were falling within the South Transept, making conditions hazardous at ground level. Firemen hauling hose lines up narrow spiral staircases to reach the roof were met with overwhelming heat.
A 100 foot ladder was used to reach the blaze from outside the Minster.
Saving the Building
A water canon was set up inside the transept to direct a huge jet of water up towards the heart of the blaze from below. The famous Rose Window was being cooled by water sprayed on the stonework above.
Water lines were laid from the River Ouse to support the efforts.
A team of clergy and residents led by the Dean of York worked to save irreplaceable artefacts from the smoke-filled building, dodging falling debris and covering their mouths with wet handkerchiefs to try and avoid smoke inhalation.
Soon the Chapter House Yard was piled high with crosses and candlesticks from six large altars, as well as tapestries, books and frontals.
A Terrifying Sight
At 3.45 am, with fears that the fire could spread to the Central Tower or Nave, the decision was made to bring South Transept’s irretrievable wooden roof beams down. Firefighters focused jets of water at the supporting beams to weaken the structure and, like a row of dominoes, the timbers collapsed.
The weight of the falling structure dragged the remainder of the roof clear of the Tower and sent it crashing to the ground.
A turning point in the crisis
Once the roof material was on the floor, firefighters could work to extinguish the flames and start the long task of checking whether the fire had spread to other parts of the Minster. They battled through dense smoke to inspect the Nave, Quire and Central Tower.
Fire crews were in attendance for approximately 24 hours after the start of the blaze and pumped gallons of water out from the Undercroft beneath the Central Tower.
As dawn broke the next morning, work began to assess the extent of the damage. The cathedral’s floor was covered beneath five feet of debris and the roofless South Transept left the cathedral’s interior exposed to the elements.
Miraculously, despite being exposed to 450C heat, the famous Rose Window had survived although it had cracked in 40,000 places.
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