Summerland and Maysfield – two terrible sports and leisure tragedies

Summerland – Isle of Man – August 1973

Although not strictly a sports centre, the family entertainment complex was the scene of a fire in which 50 people died, 80 were injured and nearly 3000 escaped. An enquiry established that the initial source of the fire was a result of smoking by young children.

Key points of relevance to current managers that arose from this tragedy are:

The fire brigade must always be called immediately that the presence of a fire is confirmed

Fires may appear to be small but can in fact be much larger because heat and smoke is spreading unseen through voids in the building structure.

In a building where children and their parents/carers are participating in different areas an addition to the standard ‘action in case of fire’ information is required. Adults should be advised that in the event of a fire the children’s groups will be evacuated and that the adult/carers should not attempt to return to their children but should exit the building and meet their children at the fire assembly point.

Summerland was rebuilt after the fire but was later demolished in 2005.


Maysfield Leisure Centre – Northern Ireland – January 1984

 6 people, including two children, died in this fire making it the worst loss of life in a sports centre fire.

The fire occurred on a Saturday afternoon when a regional judo event was taking place in the two-court sports hall. The source of the fire was matting in an equipment store situated between the sports hall and an internal corridor. The cause of the fire was never established although terrorism was specifically ruled out. The majority of people in the centre escaped including all the staff and the participants in the judo event.

The fatalities occurred as a result of exposure to toxic smoke. When the fire broke through from the store into the corridor the blinding smoke spread quickly around the centre. 2 squash players died, 3 people died in a studio (being used in the dark for photography) and 1 died in a corridor trying to escape from the studio. The NIFS conducted an investigation and recorded a video to demonstrate how the fire started and developed.

The fire is a reminder that in any fire, smoke can be deadly demonstrating the importance of adhering to all relevant standards of fire retardancy when selecting equipment and furniture in leisure centres. Since the fire new British Standards have been introduced for fire retardancy in sports matting. Centres’ licencing requirements usually specify the standards to be applied to furniture and other equipment as well as arrangements for maintenance and inspections. Nevertheless some judgements have to be made as part of the Risk Assessments that are now a requirement e.g. the use of foam blocks in gymnastic and jumping pits. Although the damage to the centre was largely caused by smoke it remained closed for some time. It did re-open but closed in 2004 and the site was being redeveloped.

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