Severe fire puts Bilsdale transmitter off-air (+ updates)

News reports show a severe fire at the Bilsdale transmitting station yesterday (10th August) which has put the station off air. Pictures show thick black smoke emerging from near the mast base and also, incredibly, from top of the mast itself, with the over 1000 foot (314m) structure looking like a huge chimney. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-58169501)

Many NTLPA members will be familiar with the site and some will have worked there.

The site is one of two main stations serving the Tyne Tees tv area (the other being Pontop Pike near Newcastle). Bilsdale serves the more southerly part of the area and lies between Middlesbrough and York.

According to North Yorks Fire and Rescue, smoke was initially reported as coming from the mast from below the first stay level, but also reports that one of the four buildings on the site is affected. (https://www.northyorksfire.gov.uk/fire-at-bilsdale-transmitting-centre/?)

Fortunately it appears that no-one was injured in the incident but a 300m exclusion zone has been put in place until the stability of the structure can be confirmed.

Bilsdale normally provides all Freeview tv services for the area as well as DAB and FM radio services and it also feeds a number of relay staions.

It seems likely that this fire will cause a significant period of outage to these services and reports say that Arqiva is currently unable to give a timescale for their full restotration. In the words of Radio Tees presenter Gary Philipson “You don’t fix that one with coathangers”!

Update 13th Aug: Arqiva hope to have a temporary replacement tv service, using an 80m mast, in service by 28th August. Some relay stations have also been rearranged to provide partial services. See links below.

Update 16th Aug: North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue (see above link) say that the site exclusion zone is still in place “until the site operator can confirm that the tower is structurally secure”. This means they cannot yet begin investigating the cause of the fire which is likely to take a few weeks when they can.

Update 24th August: There has been a delay to the provision of the proposed temporary structure. See Arqiva and Freeview links below.

Update 8th September: Arqiva have continued efforts to restore services, where possible, by rearranging feeds to relay stations and via temporary installations, most recently at Sutton Bank. However, the work to erect a temporary 80m structure at Bilsdale itself, originally planned for 28th August, has still not happened and on 2nd Sept they said they were continuing efforts to gain site access and no new completion date has yet been announced. On 16th Aug Arqiva said that the fire service had been able to access the base of the mast (presumably that means the fire was there or within the mast) and that they (Arqiva) could begin the process of assessing the condition of the mast and would provide updates as soon as possible, but there has been no further news on this as yet. The North Yorks Fire and Rescue site was updated yesterday to say that their investigations are ongoing, but the fire is not believed to have been started deliberately at this time. The Freeview site (link below) has further information on possible ways to obtain service and they have also set up a Bilsdale freephone line on 0800 121 4828.

Other links

https://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/2021-08-10/telecommunications-mast-in-north-yorkshire-has-caught-fire
https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/tv-outage-across-teesside-firefighters-21274977

https://www.arqiva.com/news-views/news/update-on-incident-at-bilsdale-mast

https://www.freeview.co.uk/help/service-updates/disruption-services-bilsdale-transmitter