SOCIAL CLUB AND SIX SHOPS DESTROYED
THE BIGGEST fire in the history of Ammanford has inflicted a blackened, acrid-smelling scar on one of the town's shopping precincts, and has created a vacuum in at least one section of local social life.
The blaze which engulfed the Regal Social Club on Friday evening and went on to destroy six adjoining shops in the Arcade, is roughly estimated to have caused about £500,000 worth of damage. The town's only cinema, the Palace, was threatened by the blaze but saved from damage.
This week the shopkeepers had the grim task of salvaging what charred or water-sodden remains of their businesses.
For the directors of the Regal Social Club there is nothing left, they can only call in the assessors and count the cost.
Mr. E. Howard Evans, of Carmarthen, who owned the building in partnership with his brother has had to call in contractors to knock down the pine end facing College Street, because it is unsafe.
The loss of the Regal will be sadly felt by many bingo fans to whom an evening at the club had become a way of life in the 30 months since it opened.
Mrs Jean Eagle, who discovered the fire , has been manageress of the club since it opened in November 1973.
She told me, “It was a whole way or life for many people. Most of the bingo fans were middle-aged or old-age pensioners and although there was drink on the premises, 90 per cent of them didn't drink. They came there to play bingo and meet friends. It will be sadly missed by a lot of people.”
Almost 250 bingo players had just left the club when the fire was discovered at 9.30 p.m., and on a busy night as many as 450 crowd into the hall.
Mrs Eagle said that on the night of the fire she had been sitting in the bar, drinking with some of the staff and clients when she sensed that something was badly wrong.
She looked around and noticed smoke coming from the top of a door leading to the cabaret room and adjoining kitchens upstairs.
I opened the door and flames roared out towards me. Slamming the door shut, I raised the alarm and with my husband, Bernard, saw to the evacuation of the building.
Like a nightmare
“People just stood there, mesmerized. They didn't seem to realise the seriousness of the situation. It was like a nightmare. It was heartbreaking to see those flames engulfing a place that ad so many memories for us all,” she recalled.
And she is, deeply concerned about the future of the dozen or so full and part-time staff who worked at the club, both in the bingo section and in the cabaret room upstairs.
One of these, Mrs. May Evans a widow who ran the sweets counter since the club opened said that the income from the job had supplemented her old age pension and she had enjoyed her work. “There is not much hope of me getting another job. My age is against me,” she added sadly.
Mr. Ken Howells, Ammanford book maker and a director of the Medina Bingo Company, Llanelli Ltd, said that he and his partners Mr. Jack Davies, of Neath, would like to see the building rebuilt so that they could carry on as before. He estimated that it would cost at least £40,000 just to furnish and equip any such building.
And he stressed that even if the hall had been full of bingo players, they would all have been safely evacuated in a few minutes through the tree separate exits. “ The fire provisions were up to date and complies with the fire regulations,” he added.