17 August 1985, Reids Fire.
17 August 1985, Reids Fire.

The inferno that changed the face of Ipswich forever

IT’S a moment in time that changed the city of Ipswich forever.

In the early hours of 17 August 198, a raging inferno took hold of the heart of the city and Reids department store crumbled to the ground.

The heat was so intense it melted the face of the post office clock tower – the hands stopping at 2:45am, as flames leapt to incredible heights.

The aftermath of the fire that destroyed Reids Department Store (formerly Cribb & Foote Department Store), on the corner of Brisbane and Bell Streets, which occurred on August 17, 1985.Photo Lyle Radford / Queensland Times
The aftermath of the fire that destroyed Reids Department Store (formerly Cribb & Foote Department Store), on the corner of Brisbane and Bell Streets, which occurred on August 17, 1985.Photo Lyle Radford / Queensland Times

Located on the corner of Brisbane and Bell Streets, it was at the soul of the CBD.

Residents and nearby partygoers looked on from the streets and wept as fire crews worked to stop the blaze from spreading to surrounding buildings.

Retired firefighter Athol Harding still remembers the moment he received the call that night.

It was 1:33am when his phone rang.

“I arrived just before the roof went through,” he previously told the QT.

“A lot of fire crews were called in to fight the blaze.

“I spent most of the time on the roof of an adjoining building to make sure the fire didn’t spread.

Retired firefighter Athol Harding of Brassall recalls the night he fought the huge fire at Reids department store in the Ipswich CBD. Images taken from old video footage. Photo: Contributed
Retired firefighter Athol Harding of Brassall recalls the night he fought the huge fire at Reids department store in the Ipswich CBD. Images taken from old video footage. Photo: Contributed

“There was a nightclub on the corner of Brisbane St and all the patrons gathered outside to watch as Reids went up in flames.

“No one could believe what was happening.”

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

Police were convinced it was deliberately lit due to the ferocity of the fire.

Four young people were charged with arson and given prison sentences, but were acquitted on appeal.

Reids was formally Cribb & Foote, a business that had formed a significant part of Ipswich’s commercial history for 128 years.

Retired firefighter Athol Harding of Brassall recalls the night he fought the huge fire at Reids department store in the Ipswich CBD. Images taken from old video footage. Photo: Contributed
Retired firefighter Athol Harding of Brassall recalls the night he fought the huge fire at Reids department store in the Ipswich CBD. Images taken from old video footage. Photo: Contributed

Two years after the fire the Kern Corporation attempted to rebuild from the ashes and develop the Ipswich City Square, but many believe the city has never quite been the same since.

Businesses in the mall have struggled to survive for decades.

Today, on the 35th anniversary of the horrific blaze, construction continues on Nicholas St as the city’s CBD is redeveloped and revitalised.

The city’s Icon building now stands where Reids once was.

Former Ipswich firefighter Athol Harding returns to the scene of the Reids fire which he helped fight thirty years ago.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times
Former Ipswich firefighter Athol Harding returns to the scene of the Reids fire which he helped fight thirty years ago.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times


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