Firefighters Sunday searched for more victims of a flash fire that destroyed a soccer stadium grandstand in the worst tragedy in English sports history. The death toll rose to 52, and some of the victims were found crushed against locked stadium gates.
At least 211 people were injured in the blaze, with 24 people listed by police as still missing Sunday, more than 24 hours after flames engulfed a wooden, 240-foot-long section of the stands at the home field of the Bradford City soccer club.
The flames took only four minutes to sweep through the grandstand, filled with 3,500 of the 10,000 fans who were attending the club’s nationally televised final match of the season.
A total of 52 bodies, most of them those of children or of the elderly, were recovered by Sunday, 12 of them by firefighters searching through the night, said John Sampson, chief constable of Bradford, an industrial town about 200 miles north of London once famed for its wool mills.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said she was “dumbfounded” on seeing footage of the fire on British television. “It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It was a day of agony for Bradford and a day of torture for people who have lost someone. Everything is being done to find the cause of the fire.”
Officials were uncertain of the cause of the blaze. Some witnesses reported seeing a smoke bomb thrown just before it started, while others said they saw children playing with matches.
Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Fire Chief Graham Karren said the Bradford City Soccer Club was warned six months ago that its 73-year-old grandstand was a fire risk. He said that under existing laws he was powerless to insist on measures that would reduce the risk.
A soccer fan who was sitting about 20 feet from where the fire broke out said he saw piles of litter beneath the stands that may have created a fire hazard.
At least 55 of the 211 people injured were still hospitalized Sunday, police said. Six were in critical condition.
Some people died in their seats as molten tar cascaded from the roof, setting their clothes on fire. Others were crushed to death as fans pushed against locked gates in the rear of the stands in a rush to escape.