ALMOST 20 years ago Taunton suffered one of the biggest fires ever seen in the town.

The Safeway store in Dellers Wharf was burned to the ground after a 13-year-old girl frustrated at not being able to find any discarded beer set fire to a stack of cardboard outside.

At the time, a number of members of staff were still working inside the building beside the River Tone.

At the height of the blaze on Sunday, September 16, 2001, 145 firefighters tackled the flames

The store was later rebuilt at a cost of £8.2million, while Safeway lost around £3million during the 23 weeks the store was closed - and forked out £500,000 to provide a temporary store in the car park.

The girl, who was living in a children's home at the time and has since died, pleaded guilty in court to the arson attack and was sentenced to 18 months' detention.

The store is now a Morrisons.

Here's how the County Gazette reported the fire back in September 2001.

The gutted Safeway building after the fire in 2001

The gutted Safeway building after the fire in 2001

TAUNTON’S Safeway store may have to be demolished after one of the biggest fires ever in Somerset.

Almost a quarter of the Dellers Wharf superstore was destroyed in a blaze, which was reported at about 1am on Sunday with damage running into millions of pounds.

Flames lit up the night sky as 145 firefighters from across the county, using 25 engines and three hydraulic platforms, battled for over five hours to control the fire to the rear of the store.

The roof behind the main shop area collapsed, but the shopping sections escaped with mainly water and smoke damage.

The fire-gutted section will be demolished and rebuilt, and engineers have this week been assessing whether the rest of the premises is safe.

At one stage fire chiefs feared winds could spread the blaze, so 30 residents from the recently completed Hammets Wharf and 700 revellers in Dellers Wharf nightclub were evacuated as a precaution.

The evacuated residents were shepherded to the nightclub and then the Old Municipal Buildings in Corporation Street, where they were cared for by Women’s Royal Voluntary Service volunteers.

The Safeway store in Taunton

The Safeway store in Taunton

Incident commander Dave Robinson said: “The night-time staff of about ten shelf packers and supervisors called to report a fire at the back of the store, which they evacuated.

“Due to the efforts of all services involved the fire brigade managed to stop the fire spreading.

“The fire comprised part of the structure of the building, so the borough surveyor and Safeway’s own surveyor were brought in to examine it to ensure the safety of firefighters.

“It was a very difficult fire to fight, but it was quickly brought under control and we managed to save about 70 per cent of the building.”

Water was pumped from the nearby River Tone to tackle the fire and all approaches to the superstore were sealed off.

“Somerset’s chief fire officer, Clive Kemp, said: “In the early stages I was afraid we’d suffer complete loss of the building.

“However, through concerted and brave firefighting by my staff we managed to save three quarters of the building, though obviously the damage through heat, smoke and water is considerable.”

Station officer Paul Gardner said the blaze was probably the largest in the brigade’s history and firefighters returned to the scene later to check that smouldering remains had not reignited.

Safeway’s 280 members of staff were sent home on full pay until Tuesday afternoon, when they met bosses.

Safeway spokesman Peter Sitch said “In the meantime we’ll be putting up a temporary tent-like store in the car park of about 6,000 sq ft, a fifth of the size of the existing store.

“We won’t know the full extent of the damage for a few days. Structural engineers are looking into that.

“As regards to staff we’re looking at a number of individual options. We have a great team and don’t want to break it up.

“Several will be needed in the temporary store and others will be redeployed in other stores in the area.

Safeway was recently granted planning permission to extend its sales space in Taunton to sell more non-food goods.