Northern Ireland

Man arrested following fire that destroyed listed building in Belfast

Emergency services attending a blaze in Samuel Street, Belfast (PA)
Emergency services attending a blaze in Samuel Street, Belfast (PA) Emergency services attending a blaze in Samuel Street, Belfast (PA)

A man has been arrested in relation to a fire that destroyed a listed building in Belfast.

Firefighters were called to the blaze at a derelict building in North Street in the early hours of Wednesday.

The operation to douse the flames included six fire engines, two aerial appliances and 40 firefighters.

Smoke continued to rise from the building on Wednesday afternoon as firefighters attended to the remnants of the fire.

Belfast fire
Belfast fire Emergency services attending the blaze (Claudia Savage/PA)

The PSNI confirmed that one man has been arrested in relation to this incident, in a fire they describe as “suspicious”.

The building at 166-174 North Street is a B2-listed site with an estimated construction date of 1899, making it a Victorian-era build, according to the Ulster Architectural Society.

The site, neighbouring the CastleCourt shopping centre – close to the Cathedral Quarter, was once used as an art school as well as for offices, warehouse and shops, but had become derelict.

Belfast fire
Belfast fire Emergency services (Claudia Savage/PA)

Several buildings in Belfast city centre have been hit by fires in recent years.

In April, a blaze at the sight of a former nightclub in the Mays Meadow area was treated as a “deliberate ignition” by the PSNI.

The listed Old Cathedral Building in the Cathedral Quarter – less than half a mile from the fire at North Street – was gutted by fire in October 2022.

A number buildings in the North Street area are listed for their architectural importance.

Ani Kanakaki-Ainsworth, head of marketing and communications at the Linen Hall – the oldest library in Belfast, said the loss of a Victorian-era building was “very, very sad”.

“Landmarks of our city, they are connected with the histories, with the people. People will remember them since they were young children, walking about to see all these landmarks gone, it’s devastating,” she said.

Belfast fire
Belfast fire Ani Kanakaki-Ainsworth, head of marketing and communications at the Linen Hall, the oldest library in Belfast (Claudia Savage/PA)

The Linen Hall, which was founded in 1788, remains open to the public.

Ms Kanakaki-Ainsworth said the number of fires in historical buildings in Belfast is a concern.

“It’s a big, big concern. In our organisation we’re lucky enough… we didn’t have an incident (of a fire) in many, many, many years,” she said.

“But it doesn’t make it any less sad or any less worrying for everybody else.”

A large portion of the city centre was cordoned off as a result of the fire on Wednesday – including North Street, Millfield, Union Street, Royal Avenue, Gresham Street and Winetavern Street.

Belfast fire
Belfast fire (Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue)

On Wednesday evening, Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) group commander Gerry Clifton confirmed the fire was over.

“The cause of the fire remains under investigation and we will continue to work with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and our other partner agencies during the course of the investigation. NIFRS received the initial call at 2.40am this morning,” he said.

“At the height of the incident there were 40 firefighters and eight officers involved in the firefighting operation. Six Fire Appliances from Central, Whitla, Springfield, Westland & Cadogan, a Command Support Unit from Lisburn & two Aerial Appliances from Springfield and Knock attended the incident.

“Our Firefighters worked tirelessly throughout the duration of the incident to ensure that the fire was brought under control and prevented the spread to nearby premises in Belfast City Centre.

“We would like to thank the public for their patience whilst we dealt with the incident.”