Byker Scrap Yard Fire 19/5/2011

It could be seen from the Scottish Borders, the Farne Islands, Teeside, and Consett. It turned Byker into the number one trending topic on Twitter in the United Kingdom, and made the national news.

It was also for me, the first example that social networking and smartphones are vital in breaking news situations including the incident today in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne. I had no idea my Tweets would end up being viewed and re-tweeted around the world.

Around 12:25pm, a colleague remarked that there was a big fire – pointing out of the office window. Hearing sirens in the distance I decided to take a look and noticed a huge plume of smoke not far from the office. Naturally the first thing that occured to me was to check it out.

A couple of minutes later and I was aware the fire was serious, classified now as a major incident. I immediately took to social network site Twitter to send a picture out of what I was seeing. The first picture taken as I walked along the Newcastle Quayside is below, I initially thought it was a housing area on fire, but quickly realised it was in the Ouseburn area.

Minutes later I was very close to the fire. There was already significant interest in the fire and crowds were gathering, so another picture was taken and quickly sent onto Twitter.








Interest in the fire was quickly picking up speed. My phone started ringing with friends and colleagues in the media requesting information. I also received a tweet from @bbcnewcastle requesting permission to use my picture above. Permission was given as long as I was credited, and soon appeared on the BBC News website article.

I then thought I’d take a quick video so people could get an idea of what was happening, you can see it on YouTube here.

I then decided to get a shot of the fire, including the huge plume of smoke that was billowing into the sky.

More and more Fire Engines were arriving, Police, Ambulance, NEDL Emergency Electricity & Northumbrian Water, but no TV or Radio were in sight.

Pretty soon was updated with information on the fire, with up to date pictures and information on the area – then the bigger outlets arrived. BBC Radio Newcastle, Tyne Tees TV and other TV stations.

So the fire was in full swing. My Twitter and Facebook started going mental with more and more people asking for pictures and updates on what was happening. One thing I noticed pretty quick was that as crowds and crowds arrived, the 3G signal quickly disappeared and I couldn’t send anymore pictures. Luckily I managed to gain WIFI access via a local business after a bit of a blag, and could continue to send more pictures.

Alongside the above picture, my second favourite picture taken today is on the right.

It occured to me how much media these days rely on social networking for content. There were quickly thousands of people there, most likely using Facebook or Twitter to show people what they were seeing. BBC and the Evening Chronicle were two outlets I was aware of immediately who were using pictures from these websites to show the rest of the world what was happening.

Had this have happened even as soon as 5 years ago, before smartphones and social networking took off, most would be waiting until tomorrow to see what I’ve put above.

You can see all of the pictures I tweeted here. You can use them if you wish, but please credit me and link to my Twitter account if possible. My YouTube videos are linked above, there’s 4 in total. 3 decent ones and one of the police helicopter landing on Spillers Wharf.

What I enjoyed most about it was being part of the social media generation. My pictures helped people far away see what was happening, they made national news articles, and I could see pictures others were posting from as far as 30 miles away. I was able to see a huge viewpoint of the event from all around the North East – all on my iPhone.


When a big event happens, Google is pretty clever with its live results, viewable here. It displays a graph showing the popularity on networks including Twitter.

The benefit of this, is you can scroll to the very beginning of the event to see who started talking about it first. The results of which can be seen below. I was the joint second person in the world to Tweet about it. Superb.

Do feel free to leave a comment if you’ve enjoyed reading my blog today.

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