Experts probe huge blaze that left clothes warehouse gutted
Investigations into what fire chiefs have described as the biggest blaze in Northern Ireland in years are continuing today.
The cause of the fire at a clothes recycling plant just outside Newry remained a mystery last night.
Experts were combing the scene in an attempt to determine what started the inferno.
The fire was reported at 11pm on Thursday at premises on the Newtown Road in Cloghoge.
Firefighters battled for seven hours to control the fire at the facility which is over 100m long and 40m wide. They managed to prevent it spreading to a large lorry park full of vehicles nearby.
The clothing warehouse, which stores clothing for export, was gutted.
Fire service personnel and equipment was drafted in from south Armagh, south Down, Strabane, Lisburn and Belfast.
The warehouse is situated in a rural location which provided firefighters with a number of logistical problems, mainly with accessing enough water to douse the flames. A huge water pipe stretched over a mile from the scene and local residents were praised by the fire service for helping out during the emergency.
The owner of the clothes recycling plant declined to comment on the fire and a member of staff prevented anyone from stepping on to a lane leading to the warehouse. The staff member said up to 150 people worked at the facility. He said despite the damage he understood the business would continue to operate.
A number of staff visited the scene to survey the extent of the damage.
Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service area commander John Allen described the operation to contain the fire as “complex”.
“It was very, very difficult for all our firefighters. The building was collapsing, the fire was developing rapidly and there was a lot of heat,” he said. “Probably the biggest difficulty was establishing a sequence of water supply.
“Thankfully we were able to prevent the fire spreading into the majority of the commercial premises.
“This was probably one of the most significant incidents we’ve dealt with in a number of years.
“We required specialist equipment we would not normally use.”
Asked about the possible cause of the fire he replied: “The investigation is ongoing as we speak but as yet it’s too early to come to a conclusion.”
Sinn Fein councillor for Newry Packie McDonald said he was thankful that no-one was injured.
Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon added: “Although this was a major incident we must appreciate that the situation this morning could have been a lot worse were it not for the speedy response of the Fire and Rescue Service.
“I hope that this business can become operational once more in the near future.”