Galgorm Hotel evacuated after fire drama
Barefoot guests wearing nothing but robes were forced to evacuate the luxury Galgorm Hotel and Spa in Ballymena after a fire broke out yesterday.
The blaze started in the roofspace of the main administration block at the exclusive Co Antrim venue.
Visitors enjoying the spa were among those forced to vacate the premises as 47 firefighters tackled the blaze, which was reported just before 9.30am.
The hotel later described it as an "electrical fire".
As the drama unfolded, smoke was seen billowing out of part of the 122-room resort as guests watched six Fire and Rescue Service crews bring the situation under control.
Burnt pieces of furniture could be seen outside part of the hotel on the Fenaghy Road on the outskirts of Ballymena.
Guests were allowed to return after around an hour. There were no reports of any injuries and no ambulances were required.
However, smoke put the hotel's Four Seasons room out of use for a time.
In an ironic twist, it was revealed that the attraction was due to carry out its weekly fire drill yesterday morning.
It was ditched when the genuine emergency struck.
A spokesman for the popular wedding venue said staff quickly contacted brides-to-be to assure them their big day would not be spoiled.
"We got on with calls within the hour of the news hitting the headlines because a lot of brides were being tagged into news stories on social media, so it was our priority to phone them to allay their fears," he added.
No booked weddings will be affected and a full clean-up of all facilities got under way immediately.
Portadown man Mark Beattie (28) was staying in the hotel for an Easter break with his wife, Linzi. He was in his room when the fire broke. The previous night, he was warned by letter that there would be a fire drill at 9.45am.
The letter to guests read: "This will involve setting off our fire alarms.
"Please be aware that this is a test and you will not be expected to evacuate unless circumstances change."
Mark said: "When the alarm went off just before 9.30am, we thought that it was going on for a bit too long, so we left the room.
"When we made our way outside the building, there was smoke billowing from the main office building and three fire trucks had arrived as well.
"There was an initial panic, but the staff were very good and it calmed down quickly.
"There were people in the hot tub at the time and they were not too happy about having to leave in their swimmers.
"They moved us to the Great Hall and we were all well looked after.
"There were people in their bare feet and children running about, but we got tea and coffee and the staff were very good."
A member of staff said the situation was quickly brought under control.
"We were a bit worried people might not heed the alarm, but we kept it going and the evacuation got under way," they added.
Guests who had been at the spa in their swimming costumes were handed foil capes because they did not have time to change into their clothes.
Manager Tim Burden said fire crews were "trying to get to the bottom of the cause" and praised staff for the smooth evacuation.