When he went on duty on a sultry July night in 1984, York firefighter TONY BURNETT had no idea it was going to be anything out of the ordinary. And then the Minster caught fire...

Little did we know when we went on duty that night in July 1984 that in a few hours time we would be fighting one of the biggest fires York had ever seen.

The call came in the early hours of that misty July morning and as we neared the Minster the horror was revealed.

With smoke billowing from the roof, it was evident the South Transept was ablaze.

Access to the Minster was not possible by normal means so my watch (Acomb Red Watch) and the retained crew set about getting on to the bookshop roof with our ladders, taking ropes and equipment with us.

Using the Minster’s external ladders we clambered up to the South Transept roof where we gained access to the roof via the small access door behind the Rose Window and began to fight the fire.

It was roaring like a lion in there.

The fire was ferocious, the steam generated by our hoses scalded our ears.

'The fire was ferocious': the York Minster fire of 1984'The fire was ferocious': the York Minster fire of 1984 (Image: Stock)

As the fire broke through the roof, molten lead was flying on to our tunics - remember that at that time the leggings were yellow plastic.

My torch completely melted to a blob of yellow plastic but I hung on to it and many years later donated it to the Minster archives.

The heat was unbelievable.

We were wearing breathing apparatus which weighed 25 kilos, and we were also bombarded by the water from the turntable ladder being directed at the roof from below.

After some time we were given the order to withdraw as it was thought that the roof was going to collapse, possibly taking us with it.

Fire raging through the South Transept roof at York Minster in the early morning of July 9, 1984. Photograph taken by Barry Grayson, former landlord of the York Arms in High PetergateFire raging through the South Transept roof at York Minster in the early morning of July 9, 1984. Photograph taken by Barry Grayson, former landlord of the York Arms in High Petergate (Image: Barry Grayson)

As my colleagues and I scrambled to safety up the external ladder near the central tower the roof did indeed collapse with a huge roar.

I was at the rear as as it collapsed.

I flung myself onto the parapet at the side of the walkway fearing I would be going down with the roof - but forgetting that I had the 25 kilo breathing apparatus on my back which almost dislodged me into oblivion.

Fortunately, the walkway didn’t go – and as it happened, the collapse of the roof virtually put the fire out.Tony Burnett as a young firefighterTony Burnett as a young firefighter (Image: Tony Burnett)

My Red Watch colleagues and I managed to make it down, exhausted and soaking wet – and had a reviving cup of tea at the Dean Court Hotel.

Once the roof had collapsed it was easier to fight the fire from down below and Red Watch was then relieved.

I was hugely honoured to be one of four members of North Yorkshire Fire Service to be presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and members of the royal family at the service held for the completed renovations a few years later.

A memory from that occasion still makes me smile as just before the Queen was due to arrive a button popped off my Fire Brigade tunic.

Queen Elizabeth visited the Minster in 1988, after it had been restored Queen Elizabeth visited the Minster in 1988, after it had been restored (Image: Stock)

This was a disaster as it would have been unthinkable to be presented to the Queen with a button missing.

Fortunately Biddy Baxter from the Blue Peter TV programme was close by as the new 'bosses' on the Minster roof had been designed by children in a competition run by Blue Peter.

Ms Baxter quickly produced a safety pin, made a quick repair and saved the day for me!

On the 25th anniversary of the Minster fire I happened to be honoured to be a member of the civic party as Sheriff’s consort, and was invited to do a reading.

Tony Burnett todayTony Burnett today (Image: Tony Burnett)

After this I was approached by a wonderful elderly gentleman who had served at All Saints Church as honorary constable for many years.

He told me that on the night of the fire he had been part of a group of people helping to rescue items from the Minster and when they were no longer allowed to do this they stood and watched from the safety of the Dean Court Hotel.

He recalled everyone watching with their hearts in their mouths the firemen on the roof in silhouette - and then hearing the huge roar of the roof collapsing and thinking the firemen had been lost.

He then shook my hand and thanked me for my efforts.

This was incredibly humbling for me as I later learned that this fine gentleman had in fact been a prisoner of war during the Second World War.

Do you remember the night of the 1984 Minster Fire? If so, why not tell us your story? Email your memories to stephen.lewis@thepress.co.uk