A witness has described watching a “ferocious” fire which destroyed about 1,400 cars break out in front of her.
The blaze engulfed the multi-storey car park in King’s Dock – next to the Liverpool Echo Arena – on New Year’s Eve.
The venue was forced to cancel the Liverpool International Horse Show and hundreds were left stranded overnight.
The blaze is believed to have started accidentally. No casualties were reported and no animals were hurt.
Sue Wright was among hundreds of motorists whose vehicles were ruined in the fire.
She and her family, including her husband, former England footballer Mark Wright, had been attending the horse show.
‘Ball of fire’
Mrs Wright said she saw an old Land Rover – thought by firefighters to be the source of the blaze – with its engine on fire.
“The flames were just shooting out of the engine and coming past the tyres,” she said.
“It looked like a ball of fire on the front of the car and it was producing a lot of smoke.
“We just left everything in the car – handbags, telephone, cash – and just went.
“It was all insignificant as long as everyone was OK and we could get the horses out.
“I saw one car on fire but it was clear it was ferocious and spreading.”
Liverpool City Council opened a reception centre at Lifestyles Gym, for those unable to get home or needing temporary shelter.
Others were offered accommodation or lifts by fellow show-goers or locals.
Aintree International Equestrian Centre offered its stables to those needing accommodation for horses.
‘We thought it was firecrackers’
Jan Clarke, visiting from Adelaide in Australia, spent the night in the centre with daughters Kaitlyn Bolton, 27, and Shelly, 22.
Ms Clarke was returning to a block of flats near the arena with her younger daughter at about 16:30 GMT.
She said the first sign of the fire was smoke and the sound of explosions from across the dock.
“We thought it was firecrackers,” she said.
Kaitlyn was taking a shower when the flats were evacuated, Ms Clarke said.
They were directed to a nearby branch of McDonald’s to take shelter, and watched the fire develop.
“All we could see was the smoke,” she said. “We could see the smoke getting darker and darker and we heard multiple explosions.”
Unable to return, the family was left to find alternative accommodation for the night.
“The worst part was trying to find somewhere,” she said. “We found a policeman and he told us to go to the Jury’s Inn and they helped us to get here.
“Everyone here was fabulous, I couldn’t fault them. At least it was out of the cold.”
‘It was surreal’
Ms Clarke, who celebrates her 60th birthday on Tuesday, was hopeful of a return to the flat.
She said Shelly, who suffers from epilepsy, had left her medication behind and had missed two doses.
Sean and Alison Lightning had travelled from Northwood, near Shropshire, to attend the horse show.
Mr Lightning said the couple were walking back towards the arena when he detected the smell of “burning plastic” in the air.
“It was surreal,” he said. “I said ‘knowing our luck it’ll be the venue’ and it was.”
The couple had left their phones inside Mr Lightning’s Nissan pick-up truck, but were helped to contact family by strangers.
“People in the street were helping us, ringing our family and leaving messages.”
They were able to find hotel accommodation on Sunday night and had their son pick them up from the reception centre.
Daniel Delsart, a French show jumper, was supposed to be competing in the Liverpool International Horse Show on Sunday evening but instead ended up helping evacuate some of the horses.
He said: “I rushed in with a few other riders and officials to pull out the last few horses in the multi-storey.
“The smoke was getting worse and worse and the horses were pretty alarmed with all the fire engine sirens and bangs from cars exploding.”
Later smoke began to engulf the stables and he helped to move the horses again as it was getting difficult to breathe.
He said: “The scale of the fire, it was crazy. It’s like something that you see on TV but you never think it’s possible.”
Mr Delsart had been looking forward to competing “in one of the best shows in the world” and then celebrating his 31st birthday on 1 January, but the fire cut short his stay.
“It was meant to be fun but I ended up having to drive all the way from Liverpool to Northamptonshire, on my birthday, in the truck.”
The fire service was first called at 16:42 GMT on New Year’s Eve.
Crews remain at the scene to continue investigations into the cause of the fire, which is believed to have started by accident.
All vehicles in the 1,600-capacity car park were destroyed, police said.
Merseyside Police said 21 fire engines were sent to tackle the blaze and the fire service was guarding against the risk of the building collapsing.
A spokeswoman for the Echo Arena said the horse show was cancelled and that “all people and horses are safe and secure”.
The four-day event was due to finish with Sunday evening’s show, where around 4,000 people were expected.
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