Northern Ireland news

Video: Fire Service 'has concerns' Primark building could collapse

The Bank Buildings in Belfast houses Primark. Picture by Hugh Russell
Digital Staff

A historic building which houses Belfast's Primark store has been gutted in a fire.

Up to 100 firefighters continue to tackle the blaze which started at the top of the five-storey Bank Buildings and tore through all floors.

Loud bangs have been heard from the building this afternoon and the BBC has reported that a police officer at the scene told its reporter the building was "at risk of imminent collapse".

Fire crews were called to the Royal Avenue store this morning after smoke was seen blowing from the roof. Primark said the store, which is undergoing a £30 million extension, was evacuated successfully. 

Shortly before 5pm the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said its efforts would continue into the evening.

“Up to 100 Firefighters have been at the scene of a major fire at the Primark building in Castle Street, Belfast today. 14 fire appliances, a high volume pump, three aerial appliances and two command support units are in attendance. 

“Fire has extensively damaged the Primark building in Belfast city centre which started on the fifth floor of the five-storey building before spreading to all floors. Fire-fighting is ongoing and will continue into the evening. Residents and businesses in the area are advised to keep windows and doors closed due to heavy smoke in the vicinity."   

The blaze has been burning since around 11am and debris has fallen from the building which was built in 1785.

 Debris on the pavement outside Primark in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

Footage from 4pm:

A substantial cordon remains in place in the city centre with diversions currently in place at Bridge Street and High Street, Castle Street and Queens Street and Royal Avenue and North Street.

Several buildings, shops and offices near the fire have been evacuated due to heavy smoke blowing over the city centre, towards the Cathedral Quarter.

Primark chief executive Paul Marchant said he is deeply shocked and saddened by the fire that has destroyed the Belfast flagship store.

He reassured staff who worked in the building that he will ensure they are "fully supported".

Mr Marchant also said he will work with the authorities and building contractors to establish the cause of the blaze that destroyed the five-storey building.

Footage from 3pm:

 

Much of Belfast city centre has been closed off as firefighters continue to bring the blaze at Primark under control 

 Fire has ripped through all the floors of Primark in Belfast city centre. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

Firefighters continue to fight the blaze at Primark in the Bank Buildings in Belfast city centre. Picture by Hugh Russell

Managers at CastleCourt shopping centre on Royal Avenue have announced that it will be closed for the rest of today.

Hundreds of people have gathered at vantage points in the city centre to watch firefighters try and save the landmark building. Fouteenn fire appliances and 80 fire fighters are tackling the blaze, according to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.

 

 

 

Translink has warned of disruption to Metro services in the city centre.  

There are no reports of any injuries.

Aodhán Connolly Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director said the organisation's thoughts were with staff and customers who were evacuated.

“This fire is a real blow to the city as not only an iconic building but a hugely successful footfall draw for the city centre has been devastated," Mr Connolly said.

He added: "We sincerely hope that Primark will soon be able to rebuild a shop that is a Belfast institution.”

The Bank Buildings were designed by Sir Robert Taylor and erected by Waddell Cunningham in 1785.

The original bank opened in 1787 under the name of 'The Bank of the Four Johns' because all four founders were named John.

After the bank collapsed, the building was used as the residence of the Bishop of Down and Connor. In 1805, it was converted into a shop, and has remained an outlet for retail ever since. Primark took over the building in 1979.

Joan McCoy, President of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, said the blaze was a "sad day for Belfast".

"Buildings like these help give Belfast its unique identity and character," she said.

"The Bank Building is a very important part of the city’s architectural heritage and is loved by many.

"This building has survived bombs and fire before. We can only hope that the damage is not too severe and that the building can be saved."

 Firefighters continue to tackle the blaze. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

 

 A fire at Belfast's Primark store. Picture by Neil Crossey

 Primark said the shop was evacuated safely. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

 Firefighters continue to tackle the blaze. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

 Damage to the landmark clock on Bank Buildings can be clearly seen while the roof has been destroyed. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

 A café in North Street pulled its shutters down because of the Primark fire. Picture by Maeve Connolly

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