Fire at disused laser tag centre in Willenhall is 'suspected arson'

A fire which ripped through a disused laser tag centre and former working men's club is believed to have been started deliberately.

The blaze turned the sky orange in the surrounding area. Photo: Jonathan Smith
The blaze turned the sky orange in the surrounding area. Photo: Jonathan Smith

More than 70 people were evacuated after the fire broke out at the former Laser 20 and Chamberlain Club buildings in Upper Lichfield Street, Willenhall, shortly before 6pm on Sunday.

Ten fire crews, along with two aerial platforms, were sent to tackle the blaze which destroyed a single-storey building that used to house the working men's club - forcing the roof to collapse - and led to the two-storey former entertainment venue suffering 100 per cent smoke damage.

The sky in Willenhall was lit up orange by the flames, as smoke poured out of the buildings.

Eyewitness Jonathan Smith said he was first made aware of the blaze when a number of fire engines screamed past his home.

"I did not think much of it as police, ambulance and fire engines are fairly common coming down our street," he said.

"It was not until I started to smell burning wire that I realised there was a fire close by. Going into the bedroom I could see the sky was red and full of smoke over the town centre, close to Morrisons.

"I went out to see a number of engines and police vehicles lined up outside Morrisons and directly opposite the former Chamberlain Working Men's Club which was now brightly ablaze. I counted 10 appliances at the scene.

"There was a large crowd gathering on Morrisons car park with what I took to managerial staff from the superstore assisting with fire crews in establishing where water hydrant points were on the car park as, from what I could hear, the lights on the car park had been turned off as the store was closed, making it hard for the crews to find them."

Fire in Upper Lichfield Street, Willenhall. Photo: West Midlands Fire Service

Around 60 people were evacuated from the nearby Workers Rest pub, along with 10 adults and three children from neighbouring homes.

Susan Bennett, a barmaid at the venue, said her daughter, Toni Lloyd, called the fire service.

"My daughter came in and told us the building was on fire, so we all got out," she said.

"There was smoke coming out from the top and she was asked to take a picture of the fire to send to them. There was smoke everywhere.

The building at the rear lost its roof in the fire. Photo: West Midlands Fire Service

"We were evacuated to the car park, there were more than 60 people in, we had a singer on.

"That was it for the night. You could feel the heat from the back of the pub, the flames were massive."

Initial reports suggested The Workers Rest was the building on fire.

Writing on its Facebook page overnight, bosses reassured customers that the pub had not burned down and would open for business as usual.

Police at the scene the morning after the fire

The post added: "Anyone around us that has been affected by the fire, we’re here, we will do as much as we can to help."

Investigators are now turning their attentions to the cause of the blaze.

A spokesman for West Midlands Fire Service said it was "suspected arson", adding that "investigations are ongoing".

He continued: "I understand police are in place due to concerns of one of stability of one of the supporting walls."

West Midlands Police said officers were alerted to the fire just before 6.30pm on Sunday.

A spokesperson said: "The blaze is suspected of being arson and anyone with information can contact us via Live Chat at west-midlands.police.uk or by calling 101. Quote 20/1469641/21."

The missing roof of the working men's club is noticeable

It's not the first time the former laser tag centre has been hit by fire this year.

On May 30 crews were called at 1.55am after receiving reports for a fire.

The site has been empty since 2016 when Laser 20 shut down amid allegations of child grooming.

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