20 years ago: Windsor Castle Fire

33am on November 20, 1992, a massive fire swept through Queen Elizabeth's weekend home, Windsor Castle
Photo by Thierry Saliou, AFP/Getty Images

20 years ago today, at 11:33am on November 20, 1992, a massive fire swept through Queen Elizabeth’s weekend home, Windsor Castle. The cause was determined to be a spotlight burning through a curtain on the first floor chapel of the northeast wing. After the alarm was called, castle workers formed a human chain to save the vast collection of precious art and furniture housed within.

While the castle had 20 of its own firefighters, six of whom were full time, additional units were quickly requested. The closest responding unit, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, arrived within 8 minutes of the alarm, and within an hour there were 35 engines with over 200 firemen from London, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, and Oxfordshire, as well as from Berkshire. A defensive tactic of using fire breaks helped limit the extent of the fire, though it would take 250 firefighters 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to put the blaze out.

The fire was placed under control at around 8 in the evening. No one was seriously injured as a result of the fire, which spread rapidly due to lack of fire stopping in cavities and roof voids. The massive cost of repairs to the castle were offset when Queen Elizabeth decided to open Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time.

1992 was also the year Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s wedding began dissolving, making Queen Elizabeth’s description of the year as an “annus horribilis” particularly apt.

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