Battersea Arts Centre fire: Investigators sifting through the ashes for clues as recovery begins

Well-wishers have already donated more than £10,000 towards repairs

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The Independent Culture

Investigators are sifting through the ashes at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) today looking for clues to what started the huge fire that ripped through the grade II listed building.

The venue’s Grand Hall was badly damaged but half of the centre was saved from the flames that appeared to spread from the roof.

Devastated locals were seen crying in the street as crowds watched that blaze take hold from 4.20pm yesterday afternoon.

Footage from the scene showed huge clouds of black smoke and giant flames rising from the historic building, which originally opened in 1893 as Battersea Town Hall.

People living and working nearby to were advised to keep their doors and windows closed to avoid breathing the fumes.

More than a dozen fire engines and about 80 firefighters continued their battle with the fire overnight, with many officers being hoisted into the air on extendible ladders to douse the flames from above.

Last night's performances were cancelled as a result, along with a performance of Missing in the building's Grand Hall today, while investigations into the cause of the fire continue.

David Jubb, the centre's artistic director and CEO, paid tribute to London Fire Brigade crews for their efforts.

“We are devastated by the speed and scale of this fire,” he added.

“The most important thing of course is that everyone got out of the building quickly and safely.

“Our heartfelt thanks go out to the brilliant fire brigade who limited the damage caused to the beautiful old town hall.”

The scene of a fire at Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill, London

Mr Jubb expressed the BAC’s thanks to the offers of help and support flooding in from London and beyond.

“It is heartening for everyone involved with the organisation in this extremely challenging moment,” he added.

A National Fundraising Scheme page called “Save Battersea Arts Centre” has already raised more than £10,000 from 440 donations towards its recovery.

Fire brigade station manager Matt Burrows, who visited the scene on Saturday, said the roof of the Grand Hall had been completely destroyed but much of the building was spared.

"Firefighters did a great job to save large parts of the building including the octagonal dome which I'm told is priceless and salvaged valuable art work," he added.

"The centre are hopeful that they will be able to open unaffected areas of the building to the public today. We'll continue to damp down and our fire investigators are inspecting the building to find the cause."

Battersea Arts Centre Sign_Credit Morely Von Sternberg.jpg
The Battersea Arts Centre in Wandsworth, south London

Paul Foxcroft, a 35-year-old comedian, was walking from his home in Battersea when he saw flames tear through the venue's bell tower.

“The first thing I saw when I came out of my house were several fire engines hurtling past then I saw grey smoke in the sky,” he said.

"Crowds had started to gather. There were two ladies outside crying. I got the impression they were just so sad because they loved the building.

“It is an institution for the whole of the city of London. It is hugely popular so this fire will affect a lot of people. The back of the building was being renovated.”

Firefighters tackle a fire at the Battersea Arts Centre in south London on March 13, 2015. Around 80 officers and 12 fire engines were battling the blaze Friday.

As well as its full programme of theatre performances, concerts and events, the BAC recently played host to Labour leader Ed Miliband and deputy leader Harriet Harman when they visited on 23 Feburary to launch their party's arts policies ahead of the general election.

Mr Miliband tweeted of his shock at hearing the news.

He wrote: “Terrible to see photos of Battersea Arts Centre engulfed in flames. I was there in February. Thanks to the firefighters fighting the blaze.”

Additional reporting by PA