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Shops are destroyed after major blaze in the centre of Ballymena

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Passers-by watch as the shops go up in flames on Broughshane Street in Ballymena yesterday

Passers-by watch as the shops go up in flames on Broughshane Street in Ballymena yesterday

Passers-by watch as the shops go up in flames on Broughshane Street in Ballymena yesterday

A number of businesses were destroyed on Tuesday, May 30, after a massive fire tore through one of Ballymena's busiest shopping streets.

The blaze started in the Woodgreen furniture store on Broughshane Street at around 5pm and quickly spread along the terrace of shops.

One firefighter received minor injuries and five retail units were affected, including Rainey and Gregg estate agents, Open and Direct insurance, McAtamney solicitors and the Double Happiness Chinese takeaway.

During the blaze the roof of at least one property completely collapsed.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said crews were called to the scene at 5.08pm, by which time the flames were already well developed.

Eight fire appliances, two high-reach aerial appliances and 58 firefighters from surrounding stations were deployed.

Videos soon emerged on social media showing the huge flames and thick smoke engulfing the properties as stunned locals looked on.

One clip showed shoppers walking by without noticing what appears to be the early stages of the fire in the upstairs of the Woodgreen store.

Mayor of Ballymena Audrey Wales, a former owner of a newsagents in the town centre, said the scale of the destruction was devastating.

She said: "My heart goes out to those affected - that's their livelihood and I really do feel very sorry for all the businesses involved and I hope nobody is hurt.

"You can always replace buildings and stock. Thankfully there's no loss of life."

Newsagent Eugene Diamond has owned his business on Broughshane Street for 37 years.

He said that lives had been changed in an instant as a result of the inferno.

"I was phoned around 5pm to tell me that there was a fire," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "I made my way into town and by the time I got there the place was well alight.

"You just wouldn't believe what this is like - it's changed lives this evening.

"Employment will be lost on a temporary basis. I couldn't believe how quickly it took hold.

"There was a fair wind this evening. The fire authorities have been doing their best, there was a lot of them there.

"But its seems to be a losing battle.

"It all seemed to run through the roofs.

"Those buildings were built in my time and their roofs would have ran together.

"Woodgreen furniture was there when it was built, it must be around 25 to 35 years. Rainey and Greggs about 15 to 20 years.

"McAtamney's would be the newest and appeared in the last five years.

"I've been on the street for 38 years of business and I've never seen anything like it.

"People are being evacuated from their homes in Suffolk Street and the council has opened up temporary accommodation for them."

By around 8pm last night it appeared that fire crews had been able to stop the flames from spreading.

Last night North Antrim Westminster election candidate Ian Paisley expressed his shock on Twitter at the devastation.

"Terrible scene in Broughshane Street," he said.

"Fire Service on scene as usual acting with bravery."

TUV leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said: "The loss of several businesses, patiently built up over the years, in tonight's horrendous fire in Broughshane Street, Ballymena, is a severe blow to the entire town.

"Jobs and key retail and office premises have been lost.

"It is imperative that local and central government steps in with all possible assistance to help relocate these businesses and get them up and running again," he added.

Belfast Telegraph