Lessons to be learnt

Smoke billows from the building

Last Saturday we reported on the fire that developed in the early hours of Saturday morning at the George Hotel in the High Street. The hotel, as many readers will know, was badly damaged, losing its roof and with water damage throughout some areas of the rest of the building.

The turntable and platform gets set up

It is undoubtedly a tragedy for the hotel’s owners, staff, and for guests and wedding parties booked in during the summer. It was fortunate that a wedding party for the Saturday was able to relocate to alternative premises.

It could, however, have been so much worse.

For quite some time after the fire had been reported and the local Rye fire station were in attendance, it was apparent the the firefighters, efficient and dedicated as they always are, simply did not have the equipment to be able to reach and direct water on to the top of the building where the fire was at its fiercest. Witnesses from a nearby vantage point saw clearly that water from the hoses was not reaching the heart of the flames.

A turntable with high level platform was called for but it was some time before this arrived and when it did arrive, it was unable to pass through the Landgate arch – something that should have been known in advance and communicated to the vehicle’s crew. Further time was wasted while it circled the town and came in via the Mint, before it was finally able to start to operate enabling the fire to be brought under control.

The owners of the Porche and the SUV must, the following morning, have regretted parking illegally in a loading bay

Of course, had police been on the ground at that time, they could have directed the appliance and saved valuable time, but they were not. In fact no sign of them was seen until later in the morning when the action was over and one lone PC was observed in the High Street. Some bright spark at the local headquarters then thought it was a good idea to send another PCSO round on Monday to ticket illegally parked cars.

Yes we need parking control, but there are some things even more important than that.

It seems to this writer that the main lesson to be learnt here, is how quickly fire can spread through old buildings, particularly with many having considerable quantities of wood in their structure.

The George looking immaculate before the fire

Rye is a largely medieval town with narrow streets and closely packed houses built in a time long before fire-resistant materials had been thought of. The George, fortunately, is one of the taller buildings and so the blazing roof timbers were relatively isolated from surrounding properties. Had it not been, the delays in bringing up the right equipment could have resulted in the fire spreading rapidly, not just along the high street, but also to the narrow streets behind.

The police and the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service are, we are told, evaluating the lessons to be learnt from this incident and surely these must be that Rye has to be treated as a special case because of the potential ease of fire spreading and equipment that is suitable for an emergency in the town should be immediately available. In addition the fire crews who are not local and therefore not expected to know their way around, need to be briefed on which of their appliances can access certain streets and the best route to get them there.

As for the police, their managers need to take a good hard look at their actions – or lack of them. There should have been police there to assist the fire service in getting access, to keep any other traffic out of the way and to protect nearby residents by, if necessary, warning them of any imminent danger either from the fire itself or from smoke that could also contain chemicals or other noxious substances, including possibly asbestos. And if necessary, to organise an evacuation.

Rye has been burnt down before – admittedly 650 years ago and with a bit of help from the French – and we need to ensure that the potential for another disaster is eliminated as far as possible. This fire could be a wake up call and the authorities should heed it.

Image Credits: Sharon Devold , Anthony Kimber .


  1. As Chair Rye Emergency Action Community Team, I have just had an exhaustive meeting with ESFRS; covering a lot of ground. I have reported separately to the Mayor. We are hoping that a senior fire officer will attend an early Rye Town Council meeting to make some points and answer questions.

    ESFRS has already reported in the Press that their investigation indicates an electrical fire was the cause.

    As you might imagine access and traffic issues were discussed at length. However it has not escaped notice that after the recent High St scaffolding incident, bollards opposite scaffolding to prevent parking at bottlenecks are effective and should now be the norm.

    ESFRS has yet to complete its debrief and the lessons identified process and will discuss further in due course. Those matters of interest to the Town Council and the community will be reported accordingly.

    Anthony Kimber PhD
    Chair REACT

  2. Is it not time now that Rye has so many visitors in the summer that some thought was given to disallowing vehicles from parking at all in the old part of the town, perhaps with the exception of home owners (permit holders) in that area and disabled users, not only to preserve the antiquity of the town but to prevent problems with emergency services accessing the old town in the event of emergencies like this one and to make it easier to facilitate delieriveries to the shops and restaurants.
    why on earth do we want all these vehicles parked in our beautiful old town
    The powers that be talk of putting parking ticket machines on old narrow pavements in what is a beautiful little gem of an ancient town like Rye, or why not ban vehicles from that area altogether??
    More common sense is needed and some careful thought put into the bigger picture I feel.


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