IT was the very early hours of a cold August Saturday morning 30 years ago that changed the city's historic streetscape forever.

When Reids department store caught fire on August 17, 1985 the city was in shock.

The intense heat of the fire melted the face of the post office clock. The hands stopped at 2.45am which was when the fire was at its height.

The fire spread quickly and there was little fire crews could do except to contain the fire.

Built in the prime position on the corner of Brisbane and Bell streets it was an iconic part of the heart of the city.

Redevelopment of prominent historic buildings had already seen changes in the city's central streetscape and the shock soon turned to controversy.

It has been 30 years since the infamous fire that tore through the city's heart. We searched through our old negatives and found a bunch of previously unpublished images taken at the site in 1985.
It has been 30 years since the infamous fire that tore through the city's heart. We searched through our old negatives and found a bunch of previously unpublished images taken at the site in 1985.

 

The ferocity of the fire convinced police it was deliberately lit and they appealed to the public for information. Four young people were charged with arson and given prison sentences, but were acquitted on appeal.

The Kern Corporation moved in to develop the prominent site in 1986 creating the Ipswich City Square.

The city's then mayor Des Freeman yesterday reflected on the shock of the fire and the devastating impact it had on the city.

"I remember an early morning phone call and arriving at the corner of Brisbane and Bell Street to a smoke filled morning and crowds of people gathered. It was a very sad day," Mr Freeman said.

"It was like losing a life-long friend; someone who had been with you all of your life and met all of your needs and all of a sudden it was gone.

"It was the dominant feature of commercial business life in Ipswich."

The damage bill had been estimated at $10 million and the store employed 170 staff.

It has been 30 years since the infamous fire that tore through the city's heart. We searched through our old negatives and found a bunch of previously unpublished images taken at the site in 1985.
It has been 30 years since the infamous fire that tore through the city's heart. We searched through our old negatives and found a bunch of previously unpublished images taken at the site in 1985.

 

Raceview mum Karen French had been working at Reids for four years when the building burnt down.

"I was holidaying in Noosa when I was told about the fire," she said.

"As soon as I got the news I immediately drove back home. I just couldn't settle.

"The department store had started setting up for the spring - it was a devastating loss.

"It was a department store where you find just about anything you were looking for. Until Riverlink was built, shopping was never the same in Ipswich."

A government lab technician at the time, Mayor Paul Pisasale was at a fancy dress fundraiser for Jaycees (Australian Junior Chamber) at Queens Park when the fire broke out.

"I can still see the flames, I can still smell the smoke and I still feel the devastation it cost our city," Cr Pisasale said.

"That corner used to be the meeting place and when that burnt down it ripped the heart and soul out of this city. Hopefully the plan we are launching the next few months will reinstate that heart and soul. It has taken us 30 years really to rebuild. People just don't realise the effect it had on our city."

 



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