Friday September 4 marks 50 years since one of Lithgow's most deadly disasters.
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As fate would have it, the often forgotten piece of history was documented by former Lithgow Mercury Editor, Len Ashworth at the time, as he was there on the day Bracey's burned.
Len recounts his experience on the day and how the Lithgow community reacted at the time.
SPRINGTIME - according to myth, legend and the gardening calendar the season of renewal.
But there wasn't much renewal at the changing of the seasons on the first weekend of springtime in 1970.
Half a century ago this week the flicking of the calendar was instead marked by one of the most dramatic and sadly deadly episodes in Lithgow's history.
Saturday morning started like any other - with hundreds of residents and visitors enjoying their weekend sport and others socialising and shopping, all to escape the workday week.
It was an era before off-street facilities fully impacted the Main Street shopping strip and the CBD was busy.
The horror of the occasion intensified when word began to circulate that a staff member was unaccounted for.- Len Ashworth
Nothing to upset the routine unless anyone was concerned about a weather change that seemed to be looming in the south west.
That easy lifestyle of Saturday in the valley ended dramatically mid morning when smoke was seen wisping then gradually billowing from the Bracey department store.
Alarm turned to panic as shoppers and staff fled the building and an out of control fire took hold , firstly it seemed in the upper level.
Within a very short time smoke could be seen as far away as Wallerawang and Mt Victoria and firefighters from Lithgow and surrounding towns quickly realised they were facing an impossible task in controlling a massive blaze fuelled by the stocks of flammable merchandise.
Police blocked off Main Street to the public and literally thousands of onlookers took up vantage points across the lines in Railway Parade to silently watch the unfolding drama and its unwelcome place in the city's history.
The horror of the occasion intensified when word began to circulate that a staff member was unaccounted for.
The body of the young employee was later recovered where he had become trapped with no way of escape in an upstairs office.
The Bracey family had been in business in Lithgow since 1886 in what was known as Excelsior Arcade, roughly on the site of today's Sportspower store.
In 1906 the firm moved a short distance across New Road (now Sandford Avenue) to bigger premises that had been vacated by the Lithgow Co-op.
Over the years much of that old 19th century building remained from an era when fire regulations, if they existed at all, were very basic.
Various modern sections had been added on but the old section remained very much a rabbit warren.
The building had been given a more modern frontage beneath awning level but the upper faade had been fitted with cladding that further restricted access by firemen seeking the source of the blaze.
The blaze continued for much of the day and as nightfall approached firefighters were still on the scene when snowflakes began swirling around them.
The snow, a stark contrast to the drama of just hours before, intensified throughout the early morning with eerie wisps of smoke continuing to filter through drifts in the shattered shell of what at the beginning of the weekend had been Main Street's most popular retail outlet.
The snow during the Sunday developed into a full on 'dump' that became one of the most crippling snow storms of the century.
Drifts in some places were waist high, highways and rail across the region were impacted and the electricity failed.
The SES members in 4WDs were kept busy in rescues and, as a lighter side to the drama, the pubs solved the problem of no electricity by putting beer cans in the snow drifts to cater for those enthusiastic punters determined not to let a little Arctic blast disrupt their routine.
All of that 50 years ago this week but with older memories still raw and sure to challenge this writer's recollections of the occasion.
Bracey's continued to trade following the disaster from their hardware department on the other side of Main Street while rebuilding a modern multi purpose store on the fire site.
The company continued to trade as Lithgow's third oldest operating business (behind the National Australia Bank and the Lithgow Mercury) until 2007 when the principals were ready for retirement . The hardware and electrical department was sold to Harvey Norman and the main building later to Dimmeys.
An important anniversary and after half a century a chapter in Lithgow's history that won't be forgotten.
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