Over 100 members of the Northern Ireland Fire Service have been battling a fire at the historic Bank Buildings, which was home to Primark department store, at the heart of Belfast’s city center.
Authorities have said it will take some time to extinguish the fire, which has destroyed the historic building dating back to 1787. On Wednesday morning it was revealed there are fears the old redbrick-building may collapse due to the extensive damage.
The fire broke out on Tuesday at about 11am. Staff and customers were quickly evacuated. Amazingly there were no injuries.
The top of the building then became engulfed in flames before it spread from floor to floor.
The building had recently undergone a $38.5 million (GBP30 million) refurbishment.
PRIMARK: 8:30 am it began with happy customers and happy staff, tonight 8:30 pm - It's tears, shock and worry and a massive piece of our cities history is at risk. The harrowing site as one of Belfast's most iconic buildings lies as a complete burnt shell @BelTel pic.twitter.com/4lRgtIfrKQ— Kevin Scott (@Kscott_94) August 28, 2018
The CEO of Primark Paul Marchant expressed his deep shock and said he was greatly saddened by the fire. He added that he would ensure that staff affected by the fire would be "fully supported".
Speaking to RTE the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, Deirdre Hargey, said it was Belfast City Councils priority was to relocate all 350 staff to other Primark stores in the area. She added that the long-term goal of the Council is to get the Bank Buildings and surrounding area back up and running.
Sadly, the Bank Building, home to the popular Primark store, which had survived the bombing of Belfast during World War II and during The Troubles may now collapse.
Sad to hear about today's fire at Primark (Penney's) housed in the The Bank Buildings, Royal Avenue, Belfast. Here is the beautiful building in the earlier part of the 20th century. (Archiseek) pic.twitter.com/PcqdyvDBhm— Old Ireland Pictures (@OldIrelandPics) August 28, 2018
Northern Ireland Fire Service Group Commander Alan O'Neill told RTE the service, who are continuing to battle the fire, would meet with structural engineers on Wednesday to evaluate the safety of the remaining building.
He added that an investigation would be carried out to determine the cause of the fire, however for now there is nothing to suggest that the cause was anything suspicious. The Commander added that this was the largest fire he had dealt with during his career.