They said a mill fire was a spectacular sight, with shooting stars lighting up the crimson sky, as sparks of red, blue and gold shot into the air. The yellow flames that danced on the breeze were visible for miles around. It wasn’t spectacular when you trapped inside though. It was terrifying. The flames, heat, smoke and noise caused disorientation and blind panic. His heart was racing and he realised he had to calm down. Taking a steadying breath, he ran back to the door banging and shouting, in the vain hope that somebody would hear him.
The fire was well alight now; hissing, spitting and crackling, as it spread from bale to bale. The heat was unrelenting and intense. Thick acrid smoke was slowly filling the building and John realised this was much more of a danger than the flames. Already the fumes were irritating his nose and scorching his throat. He pulled his cravat off and tied it over his mouth and nose, in an attempt to stop the poisonous fumes reaching his lungs.
Stupid, he’d been so stupid to enter the building, he realised that now, but what else was he to do? This place was his life. When something appeared to be wrong it was up to him to sort it out. There was nobody else. It had been that way since his father had died. He had been the man of the family and it had been up to him to secure his mother and sister’s future.
He leant against the door, pushing with all his might, but it was solid and the lock well-made. There was no way that one man alone was going to break it down. It was unbearably hot. Sweat drenched his body and ran down his face. The fumes from the fire were in his lungs and his body shook from heavy racking coughs. The coughing was making him so tired and his cries for help grew feeble.
Looking up through the smoke he could see flames licking at the roof. the beams were alight now, the heat and flames from the bales below causing them to crack and splinter, as they exploded into life. Masonry began to fall and he huddled close to the wall in an attempt to avoid it, as it plunged to the ground. One piece caught him a glancing blow. Ignoring the pain as his hand got burnt, he pushed it as far away as he could.
People said that before you died your life passed before your eyes, but his didn’t and yet death could not be far away now. His coughing became worse, forcing him to his knees, as he tried to get rid of the noxious smoke that burned and clogged them. As he knelt there, a thick black veil seemed to descend on him; its tendrils sneaking and invading his mind and body, until he could think and feel no more; his last words were an apology to his mother, before he slipped unconscious to the floor.
It had rained, so the streets and pavement seemed to sparkle in the fading light. MJ had been sat in her small car for most of the day. With each passing hour she had succeeded in getting progressively closer to the mill, as the crowd of spectators gradually moved away. She had heard people say that there was nothing as spectacular as a large fire, and judging by the crowds, who had come to watch this one, a qualified pyrotechnic would have struggled to have given a better show. She hadn’t viewed it like that however; it broke her heart to see the once mighty structure partially destroyed. Its walls blackened, the windows blown out by the heat of the fire and the roof gone, leaving the whole building exposed to the elements. She climbed out of the car and stood in silence staring up at the once proud structure. The gates to the mill yard had been thrown open to allow the fire engines access. She walked towards it and stood staring into the yard.
“Please, don’t come any closer Miss, the building’s not safe. We’ll be damping down for several hours yet.” A fireman told as she peered round the corner.
“No, I won’t. Was anybody hurt?”
“No, fortunately the fire broke out in the early hours of morning so the place was deserted. The fire investigator will be along later; looking for the cause. Are you with the press?”
“Oh no, I’m a historian, MJ Hale. I was supposed to spend the day here with the mill’s manager.”
“Matt Richards," he said holding out his hand. "That is tough.”
“Yeah, I was looking forward to soaking up the history of the place. I mean, can you imagine how many people passed through those gates, how many pairs of clogs marched across those cobbles?”