By Kirsty Topping
DOZENS of pensioners were evacuated from sheltered housing today (Mon) after a huge fireball erupted from a blazing building just feet away.
A miners’ welfare club in West Lothian was totally destroyed in the inferno early this morning.
Explosions caused by the collapsing roof were so intense a decision was taken to evacuate more than 30 elderly people – some in their 90s – from the neighbouring building.
Around 50 firefighters and nine fire engines from seven stations were used to tackle the blaze at Whitburn and District Miners’ Club.
The alarm was raised shortly before 5am by a passer-by who saw smoke pouring from the building.
A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service said firefighters wearing breathing masks were beaten back by the intensity of the flames and fears the structure would collapse.
“The blaze is now being fought from outside the premises and there has been heavy smoke in the immediate vicinity. Those living nearby have been advised to keep windows and doors closed.
“No one was in the building when the fire was discovered and a full investigation will take place to establish the cause of the blaze. “
Several hours after the blaze started, smoke was still billowing from the roof of the building.
But shortly before 11am, a gigantic fireball soared into the sky and the entire roof collapsed into the burned-out shell.
Panicked relatives of the pensioners living next door, some of them in tears, raced to evacuate their loved ones.
They frantically hit the entry buzzer, one crying out:
“My gran’s in there. “
The pensioners, one of them believed to be 94n and many still in their nightclothes, were helped into waiting police vans and taken to emergency shelter.
An employee of the club, who did not want to be identified, stood watching in shock as her workplace was consumed by flames.
“I’ve worked there about four years now,” she said.
“I work in the bar and it’s a great place to work.
“It’s such a shame to see it go up because there was new owners and they had worked so hard to get it up and running and it had all been nicely decorated inside.”
John Starrs, president of the committee that runs the club, said he recently invested tens of thousands of pounds of his own money to help save it from closure.
“One of my bar staff on her way to work saw the fire and came to wake me up shouting ‘your pub’s on fire’.
“I’ve lost 40 grand of my own money. But it’s not about the money, you can always make more money again but it’ll take a long time to put this back.
“Four months ago, when we took over, the place was on its knees and had four days to go before they came in with the keys to lock it up.
“They had a court order so I put my own money into it. I was told I was a lunatic to put my own money into it but I proved them all wrong.
“The place was working, most of the debts were paid off, we got the place done up because me and some of the guys are builders. If we’d had to charge them it would have been in excess of 100,000 pounds.
“Four months of work, seven days a week, 20 hours a day, all gone.”
He added: “We will rebuild the club. If that goes, Whitburn goes. There’s no place else, it’s the biggest club in West Lothian and there’s no place else for anybody to go.”
Rumours that the fire had been deliberately started circulated amongst the people who had gathered to watch the fire.
A local, who didn’t want to be named said: “They reckon it was broken into at half four this morning.
“I heard when they went into the kitchen they found four or five small fires.
“It’s forever getting broken into. People want to try and get the money out of the machines.”
The Welfare club had four large halls and could hold in the region of 600 people.