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Edinburgh Cowgate fire, 2002

At eight o'clock on the evening of the December 7, 2002, a fire started above a nightclub in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, part of the city's World Heritage Site. It quickly took hold, lighting up the sky for miles around and blanketing the city with acrid smoke. Fortunately, it claimed no lives, but nonetheless destroyed many buildings, including part of the Informatics department of the University of Edinburgh and a venue for the Edinburgh Fringe.

19 fire crews in total attended the blaze when it was it its height, the majority from Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade. It took over a day to bring the fire completely under control, and is the largest incident of its kind in living memory in Edinburgh.

The fire closed two main transport arteries, the Cowgate and South Bridge, in addition to several other roads, leaving Edinburgh's transport system struggling to cope in the days that followed.

The Informatics department at Edinburgh University pioneered the study of Artificial Intelligence in the 1950s, and had one of the most comprehensive archival libraries in its field. It is thought that although little research data was lost in the fire due to offsite backups[?], the loss of the library represents a much greater loss than the building itself.

A major venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Gilded Balloon, was also gutted by the fire, leaving plans for 2003's festival relying on alternative premises.

The First Minister of Scotland[?] has appealed to the UNESCO World Heritage Fund for money to assist in the redevelopment of the site.

Buildings affected

News sources

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