Nostalgia: 1979 - the night the Rio burned down

Demolition of the Rio Bingo hall in Kirkcaldy after a fire. October 1979
Demolition of the Rio Bingo hall in Kirkcaldy after a fire. October 1979

It’s October 1979 and Kirkcaldy’s biggest and most popular bingo hall is razed.

The Rio Kingsway Social Club in St Clair Street was burned to the ground when fire ripped through the building in the early hours of Sunday the 21st.

Fire crews at the Rio Bingo hall which burned down in October 1979

Fire crews at the Rio Bingo hall which burned down in October 1979

A total of 50 firemen raced to the scene to tackle the blaze and residents in nearby homes were evacuated.

For three hours they fought to bring the flames under control and when they finally managed to put the fire out the building was completely destroyed, leaving damage behind running to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Firemen entered what was left of the building to begin mopping-up operations and found a scene of utter devastation – the auditorium, balcony and stage were almost unrecognisable.

The scarred and twisted remains of the balcony had collapsed onto the debris of the auditorium below and only the brickwork remained where the stage had been.

The owner of the Rio, well-known Kirkcaldy businessman Bert Caira called it “a tragedy” but wasted no time in getting the building back on its feet.

On Tuesday the 23rd a demolition crew set to work after building inspectors decided on safety grounds that the remaining shell would have to be pulled down.

Road blocks were put in place and traffic was diverted along Boreland Road in one direction and Junction Road at the other.

Mr Caira said: “There’s certainly not an existing building in Kirkcaldy of the same size, so we will have to rebuild on the present site.

“Something will go back up on the site, but we have not yet decided what it will be. But there will be a bingo hall.”

It was shortly after 1am that cleaners who were on their way out of the building noticed a smell of smoke and raised the alarm.

Eight fire units from across Fife raced to the scene as the fire spread rapidly throughout the building.

A dramatic scene unfolded as firemen wearing breathing apparatus entered the bingo hall but were soon forced back as parts of the roof began to cave in.

Flames and sparks began shooting into the air and were seen to fall on houses nearby – the police deciding to evacuate the householders as a precaution.

Using an 85-foot hydraulic platform, the fire crews fought the fire from every available vantage point until it was finally extinguished shortly after 4am.

The building had opened as a bingo and social club in 1969, having formerly housed the Rio Cinema and had been undergoing a facelift at the time the fire struck.

The exact cause of the outbreak was unclear but speaking at the scene Firemaster Fraser Ballantyne said he suspected the fire had started at the back of the stage and spread upwards towards the roof.

Curiously, it was the third former cinema in the town to have burned down in the space of just a few years.

In 1972 the Carlton Cinema, the venue where The Beatles had famously played at the junction of Park Road and St Clair Street, went up in flames and a couple of years later the Odeon Cinema on the High Street was destroyed by fire on Boxing day 1974.

And going further back, just after the end of the Second World War, the Palace Cinema at the top of Whytescauseway was also a victim of fire.

The new building which was built in the original’s place re-opened as a bingo hall as Mr Caira had promised.

It remains on the same site to this day and is now home to the children’s play centre Wonder World.