Small pockets of fire still burning in Primark with further structural collapse overnight
POCKETS of fire continue to burn in the former Primark store and there has been further structural collapse overnight, the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service has said.
An NIFRS spokesman said its operation has been scaled back overnight to three fire appliances and is expected to be reduced further today. At the height of the blaze on Tuesday 100 firefighters were involved in tackling the fire.
The exclusion zone around the devastated Primark building in Belfast city centre has been narrowed and 14 businesses remain inside it.
The cordon is expected to remain for days as fears grow that the building could collapse.
Firefighters are continuing to douse hot spots in the smouldering shell of the five-storey Bank Buildings – one of the biggest fires witnessed in the city in years.
Engineers are continuing to assess whether the iconic sandstone facade of the listed three-century-old building can be saved and are using drones to do so.
Belfast mayor Deirdre Hargey said "every effort" would be made "to preserve the building and save the façade".
"Structural engineers continue to assess the building as far as is possible in the current circumstances, and are currently looking at how they might be able to preserve the façade; this is a complex piece of bespoke engineering and it will be some time before the building can be properly assessed" she added.
Fire service area commander Aidan Jennings said the building was at risk of collapse due to a “significant amount of twisted steelwork and collapsed floors”.
He said there was a “significant collapse within that front part of the structure” and engineers were working to establish the extent of the damage and whether the facade could be saved.
“There is still a risk it could collapse and that’s why we have the cordons in place,” he said.
The building’s sprinkler system – and whether it was activated – will form part of the fire service’s investigation, as will shoppers’ concerns that fire exits were blocked with cages of clothes.
The fire service’s last full audit of the building was conducted on January 24 2013.
The premises were found to have a “satisfactory level of fire safety arrangements”.