THE largest fire to occur in Penarth in living memory happened on the afternoon of May 29, 1977, on the bank holiday weekend.

Fire swept through the Esplanade Hotel which was a prominent Victorian landmark on Penarth seafront.

The hotel was famous in rugby circles for hosting the Barbarians rugby team on their popular Easter tour of South Wales, which always featured a match against the local Penarth team.

Large crowds had flocked to the Esplanade as it was a gloriously sunny day; but they were treated to the sight of over 50 firemen battling to extinguish the blaze which seriously damaged the building.

The first appliance to arrive was driven by me, with a veteran 'old hand' Mal Peters in charge. We had received the initial call-out as a rubbish fire at the rear of the hotel, and driving along Rectory Road and down the hill to the beach we could see a huge plume of smoke rising high above the seafront.

We all quickly realised that we would soon be involved in some serious fire fighting, and to request support I had to radio-message our central control room, ensuring that all the correct details on the location of the fire and its extent were fully understood.

As always when you do this type of message, they ask you to repeat yourself, which can be very frustrating when you can see the fire taking hold.

We were only a crew of four and as you can imagine we were soon totally stretched.

We managed to run a hose line into the building, and luckily there was a fire hydrant just opposite the front of the hotel, providing water to fight the fire.

The first crew into the building were Kevin Wiggins and Terry Bullough, who had to deal with two very agitated Alsatians running loose inside.

Working our way upstairs we located three different seats of fire, and the fire at the top of the stairs had gone through the roof which helped to reduce the amount of smoke within the building.

The arrival of all the back-up appliances seemed to take forever.

The first to arrive was the Hydraulic Platform from Penarth crewed by some of our part-time firemen, who were able to provide some comic relief as they drove straight over the hose line which burst, soaking some of the crowd who were watching.

It took over three hours to extinguish the fire completely, and as you can imagine inside the hotel was similar to a bombsite.

Floors and ceilings had collapsed and one Cardiff fireman was injured, who was rescued by his colleague Hector Gosling, who at the time was Mayor of Barry.

They both emerged covered in plaster dust looking like snowmen, but with Hector laughing (as only he could), and the other fireman under his arm!

The fire crews who attended that day came from all over South Glamorgan, but the four of us on the first appliance were all Penarth 'locals' and we all deeply miss the 'Esp'.

Police investigated the cause of the fire, but nobody was ever held responsible. The building remained derelict for a number of years before being demolished and a block of flats being built on the site.