There have been reports of explosions following a fire at the historic Primark building in Belfast's city centre.
A fire engulfed Primark's flagship store in Northern Ireland this morning - with more than a dozen fire crews battling to save the landmark building in Belfast city centre.
LIVE: Fire at Primark building in Belfast Read more: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/reports-of-explosions-at-belfast-primark-as-entire-building-ablaze-widespread-disruption-in-city-centre-37259658.htmlPosted by Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, August 28, 2018
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has warned that the incident on Royal Avenue and Castle Street is likely to continue throughout the rest of today.
“There are currently 14 fire appliances and 80 firefighters in attendance at the scene dealing with a major fire," said an NIFRS spokesman.
The building has been evacuated. Residents and businesses in the city centre were advised to keep their windows and doors closed as a precautionary measure.
The fire started on the fifth floor of the building, which has been undergoing refurbishment work.
A Primark spokesperson said the shop was safely evacuated this morning "following a fire on the roof".
Hundreds of people gathered to watch firefighters tackle the blaze.
Police are also at the scene and have cordoned the area off. They have advised motorists to avoid the Castle Street area.
Diversions are currently in place at Bridge Street and High Street, Castle Street and Queens Street and Royal Avenue and North Street to allow Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service to deal with the incident.
Castlecourt and a number of other local businesses have closed due to the fire.
Drivers parked in Castlecourt car park can still access their cars via the car park entrance.
Caitlin Hunter (17) was in the ground floor when the alarm was raised.
“I was just on the ground flooring when all of a sudden I could smell smoke. People started walking out quickly and I followed the crowd.
“Before I knew it there was smoke everywhere and flames, even though it seemed to start off very small.
“The mood was very confused in the shop, everyone could smell the smoke but nobody could tell what was going on.”
She added: “It’s a shock and a very scary moment.”
Within minutes the entire building was emptied and the flames tore through the top floor.
A number of loud bangs were heard on the street below, believed to be gas cannisters.
Belfast City Councillor Jim Rodgers said he had been told tar was being laid on the roof of the building shortly before the fire started.
“Inquiries are still at a very early stage but I’ve been told by a number of people that the fire started on the roof, seemingly it was tar being put down on the roof as part of the refurbishment of the building", he said.
“It’s been worked on for so long and within minutes it’s disappeared into an absolute inferno.
“I’ve got to praise the fire and rescue service, there’s a large number of them here and they’ve done a brilliant job in bringing the fire under control.”
Sinn Fein Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey has urged members of the public to keep a safe distance from the site.
“I would also ask the public to avoid the Castle Street and Royal Avenue whilst the incident is ongoing," she said.
“Emergency services are at the scene and responding. I would urge the public to be cautious and to assist the emergency services in whatever way possible."
Designed by architect Sir Robert Taylor, the historic Bank Building was constructed in 1785 and opened in 1787. It was later a shop and drapery firm at various points.
The building was extensively damaged by three bombs on April 9 1975, this was followed by a fire which forced then tenants Boots to move out.
It was then refurbished in 1979 and reopened by current owners Primark.