Picture by David Wilkins
A senior fire officer last night said emergency crews were helpless as a massive blaze which caused 1,000 people to be evacuated from their homes destroyed a Birmingham retail store.
West Midlands Assistant Chief Fire Officer Robert Hulland said firefighters could only watch the Matalan store in Stechford Retail Park being destroyed as the building did not have the added protection of a sprinkler system.
He said the brigade was becoming "frustrated" at dealing with blazes at premises which should have sprinklers.
About 100 firefighters tackled the inferno which caused millions of pounds of damage and sent a giant pall of smoke that could be seen across the West Midlands.
The fire service's frustration was heightened as it came just days after fire destroyed part of Lighthall School in Solihull, which also did not have any sprinklers.
Yesterday's blaze started in a storeroom at about 12.30pm and quickly tore through the main retail area before spreading to the neighbouring JJB outlet. Two nearby roads were evacuated for about four hours due to concerns over acrid smoke. No one was hurt.
Mr Hulland said: "Yet again the fire service is having to come to a new building that does not have sprinklers and all we are doing is watching it burn.
"We have a lost a commercial premises that has been completely destroyed. There are people who now do not have a job and I have had to put my firefighters at risk. The fire service is frustrated at being called to fires at buildings built by developers who have not put sprinklers in."
Mr Hulland rejected concerns that retailers and schools raise over sprinklers accidentally being set off and ruining stock or coursework.
"The chances of one outlet going off is 16 million to one," he said.
A spokeswoman for Matalan said it was one of only a few retailers to employ a health and safety manager who audits all 194 stores nationwide.
She added: "Ideally we would have sprinklers in all our stores. We take them very seriously."
Staff at the store were alerted to the blaze by a fire alarm and evacuated safely. Shortly afterwards, the roof collapsed and the decision was taken to evacuate residents and workers in nearby buildings.
Daniel Mytton, from Parkdale Road, Sheldon, who works at the store, said: "I was not working when the fire started but I could see the smoke from my house. I went to the store and I could not believe how fast the fire was tearing through the building. I do not know what I am going to do for work now."
A spokesman for the city council said a reception area was opened in Sheldon for the families displaced by the fire.