Jenners fire: Investigation ongoing year after blaze killed firefighter

A major fire broke out in the Jenners building on Monday, January 23 - killing one firefighter.

It is one year since a blaze broke out at the iconic Jenners building in Edinburgh leading to the death of a firefighter.

Dubbed the Harrods of the North, the high-end store occupied a space on Princes Street for 184 years and was known far and wide for attracting big spenders, window shoppers and tourists until it closed its doors in December 2020.

The building was undergoing a multi-million pound renovation and set to reopen as a luxury hotel.

Then, at around 11.30am on Monday, January 2023, around 50 firefighters and ten appliances were called to the category A-listed building after an aggressive blaze broke out.

An investigation into the fire and the circumstances of Barry Martin’s death remains ongoing 365 days later.

‘Terrible tragedy’

Barry Martin with his twin sons Oliver and Daniel.SFRS

Five emergency responders were rushed to hospital with serious injuries as a result of the operation at the former Jenners building.

Among them was Mr Martin, who was left in a critical condition at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

The 38-year-old was pronounced dead four days later.

Members of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service line the streets to pay their respects during the funeral of their colleague who died in the Jenners blaze at St Giles' Cathedral.Getty Images

His death made him the first Scottish firefighter to die in the line of duty since Ewan Williamson, who died after being injured in Edinburgh in 2009.

Members of the fire service community from across Scotland joined his family and friends to pay tribute at his funeral on Friday, February 17.

Ahead of the service, Mr Martin’s wife Shelley remembered him as a “motivated” man who was “driven” to be a firefighter.

Barry Martin, his wife Shelley, and their twin sons Oliver and Daniel.SFRS

She said: “Barry was motivated, proud, and driven to be the best he could be, for himself, for his family, for his colleagues, and for the community and wider public.

“Being there for people, during their time of greatest need, meant everything to him in his career.”

Mrs Martin said her husband was a devoted father to their two sons, eight-year-old twins Oliver and Daniel, and said she was “utterly privileged” to be his wife.

“Our sons could not have wished for a more loving and attentive father. He was a busy dad, transporting our sons to their various activities, and being there for them,” she said.

“I felt utterly privileged to be his wife throughout our life together and always will. Our love, admiration and respect for him will last forever.”

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Fire Brigades Union said: “Today marks the anniversary of the Jenners fire.

“This is a time of sadness and reflection for firefighters across the country.

“The family, friends and colleagues of Barry Martin will mark this occasion privately.”

Investigation ongoing one year on

Barry Martin was critically injured when battling flames at the former Jenners store. SFRS

The blaze at Jenners prompted an investigation which remains ongoing one year on.

The Fire Brigades Union said it would “make its views about the fire public” when the investigating authorities report is published.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “The investigations into the full facts and circumstances behind this tragic incident are ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.

“As ever, our thoughts are with Firefighter Barry Martin’s family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.”

History repeating itself

It was the second time the retailer was struck down by fire, with a blaze devastating its original Princes Street building in 1892.

Two firemen were sent to hospital after battling the blaze, which completely destroyed the then 120-year-old building.

A crowd of 40,000 people gathered to watch Jenners burn to the ground.

Rebuilt in 1895, the A-listed Renaissance-style building boasted ornate balconies and atriums, pillars and dark wooden staircases with clothes, toys and homeware across three floors.

However, history repeated itself as dark smoke was seen billowing from the building and sweeping across St Andrew Square in January 2023.

One eyewitness, Gillian Webster, described smoke “streaming” out of the building before firefighters arrived on the scene.

Dark smoke was seen billowing from the building.Nicole MacDonald

What does the future hold?

The future of the former Jenners was for a time shrouded in uncertainty – before ambitious plans put forward by AAA United A/S were given the go ahead by Edinburgh City councillors.

The building was in the middle of a multi-million pound renovation backed by Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen to turn it into a 96-bedroom boutique hotel, and leisure facility.

Granted to give Jenners a new “lease of life”, the multi-million pound programme of works was scheduled to be finished by 2025.

Following the devastating fire, architects made updates to the plans for the store’s redevelopment.

Revisions include changes to the atrium stair arrangement, with the plans stating: “The historic stair is to be removed due to arrangement needed for fire-fighting stair.”

It continues: “The bridge link has been carefully designed to remain respectful to the historic Jenners building. The new proposal raises the volume by approximately three metres to create a terrace to the bar at level seven.”

Jenners on fire on January 23, 2023. Twitter / @GillianW_Writer
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