Revellers evacuated after weather wreaks havoc at Royal Mile Hogmanay event and blows burning embers into crowd

THOUSANDS of Hogmanay revellers were forced to flee the Royal Mile last night when high winds blew red-hot sparks from a fire display into the crowds. Firefighters were drafted in as the charcoal-filled braziers began to spit furiously at families who had gathered to watch the free spectacular.

A four metre wide fire ball is lit by performance artists Carbosse

Police evacuated a large section of the street as fire crews doused the sparks. Witnesses say the embers burned holes in their clothes but no injuries were reported.

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The event, which formed part of the Capital's Night Afore – Light Night Hogmanay event, saw performers from French troupe Compagnie Carabosse stage "magical fire installations" including swinging fireballs.

The group is said to have performed worldwide for several years without incident.

One onlooker said: "It started off really well and everyone was enjoying it. Then the wind got up and sparks started flying off the performers' batons.

"People started getting worried because they were getting holes burnt in their coats and the sparks were getting very near to buildings.

"I don't think it really went to plan."

Ronnie Roberts, 52, from Cockburn Street, added: "It's a shame but an example of planning without thinking about the weather.

"I feel a bit sorry for the organisers but this could have been dangerous."

Firefighters extinguish flames from the Carbosse installation

The event began shortly after 7pm when organisers started lighting the metal braziers, which were placed between the City Chambers and Cockburn Street.

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Further up the street, outside St Giles' Cathedral, a four-metre wide furnace wheel and a huge burning chandelier also formed part of the night's attractions, along with light displays in the cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, Mary King's Close, the Scotch Whisky Experience and John Knox House.

The braziers – which were more than a metre in height – were intended to burn calmly, but within minutes problems were obvious as sparks flew quickly and viciously at the thousands of people passing by, at their faces and on their clothes.

Joshua Paddock, 26, a visitor from the United States, said: "It certainly didn't look safe to me."

Event stewards began ushering onlookers away from the columns, while others fled of their own accord or huddled in groups to take shelter from the sparks.

Police then cleared the centre of the street before organisers rushed forward with fire extinguishers, which they used to tackle most of the columns over the following half-an-hour, causing huge billows of smoke to fill the air.

By 8pm, following a heavy shower of hail, the entire section of the High Street from the City Chambers was evacuated to make way for three fire engines.

Event organiser Pete Irvine, director of Unique Events, said: "The wind was forecast to drop, but it didn't.

"The braziers were spitting too much – it was a health and safety issue.

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"It is a great pity as they have never been a problem before having been tested all around the world at other events."

Group manager John Hanlin, from Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, confirmed at the request of the police, due to safety risks, the braziers were extinguished.

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said the fire displays were deemed unsuitable, owing to the high winds, and therefore extinguished and removed to allow the High Street to be reopened.

No-one from the troupe could be contacted for comment.

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