DOZENS of people had to flee a Leith Walk pub and upstairs tenements following a blaze that sparked a major emergency operation.
Around 50 firefighters were scrambled to the blaze in the basement of the Volunteer Arms, which broke out at around 7pm last night, as fire chiefs told how crews braved searing temperatures to quell the flames.
No one was hurt in the blaze, and the pub and flats above had been evacuated before fire crews arrived.
Axes were used to cut away sections of the pub exterior in order to allow hoses to extinguish pockets of fire spreading through voids in the building, while crews patrolled three floors of upstairs tenements to ensure all residents had escaped to safety.
The doors of several properties had to be broken down.
At the fire’s height, seven pumping appliances and supporting vehicles, including a height appliance, were mobilised and 12 firefighters in breathing kits entered the basement.
A police cordon on Leith Walk led to traffic diversions onto nearby Easter Road.
The Volunteer Arms is thought to have suffered heavy smoke and water damage from operations, while the flats above may have sustained some smoke damage. It is not known how the blaze started.
Speaking at the scene, group commander Gordon Fisher said teams faced a “well-developed” fire that they were fighting over two floors.
“When crews arrived there was thick black smoke belching from the basement and a quite well-developed fire,” he said.
“Basement fires are difficult to tackle because of the heat that firefighters have to endure when coming down into it. In the beginning there were three floors of domestic housing quite heavily smoke-logged.
Most people had made their own way out of the building at an early stage but fire crews did have to perform a search of every floor because there was a large amount of smoke.
“We checked each floor in turn to make sure everyone was out of the building – in some cases we had to break down front doors to gain entry.
“Because of the nature of the fire and the constraints of the building there were a few hidden voids that allowed the fire to spread rapidly. So we were fighting fire on two levels.”
And he added: “The fire had spread through voids at the pub frontage so we had to cut away at the building to make sure there were no hidden pockets of fire.”
Steven Duff, 21, who lives opposite and watched the drama unfold, said: “We heard the sirens at around 7pm and there were more and more of them so went onto the street to take a look.
“There was lots of smoke coming from the back room of the bar – it was coming up through the windows and through gaps in the panels and walls.
“I thought there must have been people trapped inside the building because of the amount of emergency services there, but thankfully everyone seems to be okay.
“Firefighters got axes and were smashing in the windows, and pulling panels off the pub trying to get hoses in to put it out.”