TV services off air indefinitely for a million people after mast catches fire

HELMSLEY, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Bilsdale transmitting station is a broadcasting and telecommunications facility situated on Bilsdale West Moor transmitting radio and television signals to the ITV Tyne Tees television region on January 15, 2019 in Helmsley, England. This week marks the 60th anniversary of Tyne Tees television. The 314m high tower at Bilsdale transmits to the York, Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Harrogate areas and is one of the most powerful in the country. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
The 1000ft Bilsdale transmitter caught fire. (Getty Images)

TV and radio services will remain off-air indefinitely for more than a million people after a transmitter mast caught fire.

Freeview, DAB and FM radio broadcasts were disrupted in North Yorkshire, Teesside and County Durham when the blaze started in Bilsdale on Tuesday.

The fire has since been extinguished but concerns remain over the 1000ft mast’s structural integrity.

Operator Arqiva said it was working to fix the mast “quickly” and “safely” but did not give a timeframe for when services would be fully restored.

Arqiva said in a statement: “Following the incident at Bilsdale yesterday our teams continue to work with the emergency services to ensure the safety of the site.

“We have started the process to gradually restore services using a combination of temporary structures and existing infrastructure elsewhere in the region, and will be moving through this process as quickly and safely as possible.

Smoke billowing from a fire at the Bilsdale transmitting centre in North Yorkshire. (PA)
Smoke billowing from a fire at the Bilsdale transmitting centre in North Yorkshire. (PA)

“We will continue to share updates as we have them”.

A 300 metre (984ft) exclusion zone was put in place around the Bilsdale transmitting centre, high on the North York Moors, north of Helmsley, on Tuesday following the fire.

In total eight fire crews from across the region were sent to tackle the blaze, with the first call coming at 13.19pm from an engineer working at the transmitter.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (NYFRS) said the engineer “believed the mast was on fire due to smoke coming from below the first stay level” – about 50-60 metres (164-196ft) up – with calls coming from members of the public who also spotted the smoke from a distance.

In an update on Tuesday evening, the service said it worked in “difficult circumstances” and extinguished a fire in a “single-storey stone building” and the 315 metre (1,032ft) mast.

It added: “Only one building in a complex of four was affected and there are concerns about the structural integrity of the mast.”

NYFRS said it would be working on Wednesday with Arqiva “to bring the incident to a safe conclusion”.

Ron Needham, 71, and his wife Sue, 69, who were out hiking on the moors witnessed smoke coming off the TV transmitter.

Mr Needham said the sight left them “a little bit worried”, adding that the mast “is almost a friend of ours”, with the couple hiking the same route two or three times a year.

“It’s something that you see from all over the moors, a bit of a landmark,” he said.

BBC Radio Tees, BBC Radios 1-4 and BBC DAB were among the services that were disrupted.

A BBC spokesman said: “TV and radio services are being disrupted in parts of North Yorkshire and Teesside following a fire at the Bilsdale transmitter.

“We’re in close contact with the company that runs the transmitter who are working on restoring services.

“For those in the affected area, BBC Radio Tees is still available on BBC Sounds and online, as are the BBC’s other radio stations. BBC TV can be viewed through BBC iPlayer and on cable and satellite platforms.”

The transmitter tower was built in 1969 and currently supplies digital TV signals to a large area of north-east England.