LONDON — The death toll in a fire that swept a soccer grandstand in Bradford, England, Saturday has risen to 52, most of them children or the elderly, the police said Sunday night.
Some of the victims died in their seats. Others were trapped as they tried to escape through padlocked doors at the rear, the police said.
The dead were so badly burned, the police added, that only one man, who died in the hospital, has been identified so far.
“I have never seen injuries like this on such a scale,“ said Dr. David Sharpe, a plastic surgeon at the Bradford Royal Infirmary in West Yorkshire in northern England. He said that some of the injured, ranging from children of 7 to men in their 80s, would be hospitalized for months.
Most of the injured were burned on their hands, scalp and the back of their legs, Sharpe said. “I would say they were probably turning away, and debris from the burning roof was falling onto their heads,“ he said.
The cause of the blaze has not been determined. Millions saw it happen on television, and the police are studying videotapes for clues.
The fire erupted just before half time Saturday in an old wooden grandstand filled with some 3,000 fans watching Bradford play Lincoln City in the last match of the season. The blaze, fanned by a stiff breeze and generating heat of more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, consumed the structure in four minutes.
West Yorkshire`s chief fire officer, Graham Karren, said Sunday that the grandstand was a “fire trap“ and that the Bradford club had been warned of the risk six months ago after an unofficial visit by fire officials.
Karren said he had no power to insist on improvements because as a member of the lower-ranking Third Division, Bradford was not covered by existing legislation, which applies only to the First and Second divisions.
“Our hands are tied,“ he said. The grandstand had never had an official fire safety check, he said, although after their unofficial check, fire officials warned the club about exits, rubbish removal and the need for more stewards to monitor crowd behavior.
“The club would have been aware some months ago that if they were going to maintain such high crowd levels there could be a fire risks,“ Karren said. Bradford has been promoted to the Second Division, and will come under the fire safety legislation next season.
Bert Millichip, chairman of the Football Association, the governing body of soccer in Britain, traveled to Bradford Sunday and warned that such a disaster “must never happen again.“ He said some of the 92 Football League clubs would almost certainly have their stands closed by fire safety authorities.
Bradford, meanwhile, mourned its dead Sunday as 1,000 people, many in tears, crowded into the city`s Anglican cathedral. “There are many broken hearts in Bradford today,“ Bishop Roy Williamson said.
Stafford Heginbotham, the club chairman, wept openly, as did Peter Jackson, the captain of the soccer team, and Terry Yorath, the assistant manager, as the bishop assured them that the people of Bradfort would help the club to “triumph over tragedy.“ Heginbotham acknowledged Saturday that rear exits from the grandstand had been padlocked to keep people from sneaking in without paying.
Olive Messer, the lord mayor of Bradford, said Sunday that the club “must not feel guilty.“
Throughout Saturday night, some 150 anxious relatives waited in the corridors of the Royal Infirmary to find out whether members of their families were among the dead or injured.