Northern Ireland news

Primark fire: Questions over sprinkler system to be examined

An aerial image of the Primark store gutted by fire in Belfast city centre. Picture by Gregory Weeks
Brendan Hughes

THE Primark building's sprinkler system – and whether or not it was activated – will form part of the fire service's investigation into the devastating blaze.

Concerns from shoppers that fire exits were "blocked with cages of clothes" will also be examined in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) probe into Tuesday's fire.

It has also emerged that the last full audit of the Belfast city centre building by NIFRS was more than five years ago on January 24, 2013.

The centuries-old premises were found to have a "satisfactory level of fire safety arrangements", NIFRS said.

NIFRS carries out inspections of commercial premises to ensure enforcement and adherence to fire safety regulations.

 Enginners are using a drone to assess the damage to Primark on Thursday morning. Picture by Hugh Russell

The fire service yesterday confirmed the five-storey building had a sprinkler system.

"Fire investigation will determine if the sprinkler system was activated and whether this would have had any impact on such an aggressive fire," a spokeswoman said.

Some customers who were inside the building when the alarm was raised told The Irish News that some exits were "blocked with cages of clothes".

Asked whether NIFRS would be investigating the concerns, a spokeswoman said: "As part of our of our fire investigation we will be considering all areas."

However, senior firefighter Aidan Jennings also said Primark's staff deserved praise for getting people out of the store soon after the fire started.

Belfast City Council is responsible for building control, and carrying out inspections of retail outlets to ensure compliance with health and safety standards.

However, the council yesterday did not answer any questions in relation to its records for inspecting the Bank Buildings.

An aerial image of the Primark store gutted by fire in Belfast city centre. Picture by Gregory Weeks

Building conservation charity Ulster Architectural Heritage described Tuesday's blaze at the listed Bank Buildings as "catastrophic".

It said the fire was the "latest episode in the ongoing story of the cumulative loss of the heritage assets which are the soul of the city and without which its unique sense of place cannot survive".

The organisation had earlier raised questions about the extent of Tuesday's blaze.

It asked: "How did a heritage building packed daily with retail customers burn to the ground, unusually from the top down? Was a sprinkler system installed and operational?

"Are all the main heritage assets in Belfast protected by the sprinklers, fire insurance and current fire certificates required by the city council for the many new buildings currently replacing lost heritage?"

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An aerial image of the Primark store gutted by fire in Belfast city centre. Picture by Gregory Weeks
 

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