Firefighters were tackling a serious blaze at Gallahers cigarette factory in Ballymena into the early hours of this morning.
The blaze broke out in an outbuilding on the site in Lisnfillan outside the town around 8pm.
As it took hold, eyewitnesses reported being able to see flames from a mile and a half away. However, production in the main factory of the Galgorm Road site was undisturbed.
Philip Martin, group commander of the fire and rescue service, said: “The warehouse was well alight.
“We have six pumps at it, two aerial appliances and 40 firefighters. It is a serious fire.”
He said he expected the firefighting operation to continue into this morning, but added it was too early to say what started the fire.
Firefighters were pumping water to quench the flames from the River Maine, which borders the site.
SDLP assembly member Declan O’Loan said the factory had long been a part of the fabric of the town.
“It is one of the biggest employers here and has been for decades,” he said.
He said he was “relieved” the fire was in an outbuilding used for storage and not part of the factory used for production.
It is understood the company had intended to demolish the outbuilding.