04:00PM, Wednesday 22 November 2017
When the call came in over the radio that 10 fire engines were needed at Windsor Castle immediately, rookie firefighter Neil Carter presumed it would be for a training exercise.
But as the 27-year-old and his fellow crew members arrived in Windsor and spotted smoke billowing above the rooftops, they soon realised something serious was unfolding.
Little did they know, the blaze they were en route to tackle on November 20, 1992, would be remembered as one of the most devastating events in the history of the Queen’s royal residence.
Neil, now group manager for the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS), said: “It got hold really quickly and as we pulled into The Quadrangle it had clearly developed because there was a lot of smoke coming out and we could see the red glow behind the windows.”
The RBFRS control room was alerted to the fire at 11.37am, with crews across Berkshire and the South-east being scrambled to Windsor.
The blaze is believed to have started in the Queen’s Private Chapel when a spotlight ignited a curtain.
But it spread rapidly, reaching historic buildings including St George’s Hall, before sparking a frantic rescue operation to salvage hundreds of irreplaceable works of art from the Queen’s Royal Collection.
Neil, 52, added: “My first job was to lay out a jet into St George’s Hall and we were crouched in a doorway and the fire was up on the roof.
“I can remember huge chunks of masonry falling down from the ceiling.
“We were tasked to go on the roof outside and try and put a fire break in to stop it spreading.
“The fire was developing along the roof void at the space between the roof and the ceiling and we were trying to make an opening in the roof to try and halt it but it was too well-developed and we had to be rescued in the end.”
Neil spent nine hours trying to contain the inferno, alongside more than 200 fellow firefighters, and was on the scene when the Queen arrived.
He added: “She looked distraught when she arrived because that building is clearly very dear to her.”
His shift finally ended shortly before 10pm, with crew members being bussed back to their base at Maidenhead Fire Station.
“As we left, we were applauded by the tourists that had gathered outside the castle which was a very surreal experience,” Neil said.
“The world’s press were waiting outside and it was only really when I switched on the radio and saw the newspapers the next day that it hit me.”
A £36.5 million repair project, including £15 million worth of fire prevention equipment, has since restored the castle to its former glory.
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