Traders provide a helping hand to businesses gutted in Ballymena street blaze
The business community in Ballymena is pulling together to help those whose shops were wiped out in a fire that tore through part of the town centre.
Fifty-eight firefighters fought to stop the spread of the flames which engulfed six shops along Broughshane Street on Tuesday.
Businesses have rallied round those affected, some even offering the use of their own premises and phones. However, the road remains sealed off to both drivers and shoppers as the rubble continues to smoulder.
Passers-by first noticed flames in an upstairs window of a furniture shop just after 5pm.
Woodgreen furniture shop had been based in the Co Antrim town for decades, but now the family business has been reduced to charred rubble.
Local people are relieved no one was injured, but it will be a nerve-wracking wait for business owners who do not yet know the full extent of the damage.
Hairdressers Edel Kennedy and Catrina McNaughton opened their business in July 2015. The pair haven't been allowed inside their building since the fire broke out.
Edel said: "I suppose even if there's not much damage we'll not get back in for a while. They say we'll be the fastest ones to get back in but it depends on how fast they all get sorted.
"It's likely they'll have to knock the other buildings down."
Some locals suggested a mirror may have reflected sunlight on to a curtain which then caught fire.
However, the Fire Service said it is still investigating the cause. Police say the fire is not being treated as suspicious.
Robert Getty, a baker whose shop shares a wall with one of the buildings, said the businessman next door helped him open up yesterday morning.
"He's just feeling a bit disheartened by it all," he said.
"I feel for the others like the solicitor and the estate agents. Their paperwork is gone."
Ian Gregg, whose estate agency business was gutted, said he and his eight members of staff have already begun to set up base in a local restaurant.
"The great thing about the digital age is that brochures are much less important, but diaries of our appointments have all been lost," he said.
"Other businesspeople have been very kind in offering their help. Hopefully some things will be salvageable inside, but at this stage it's hard to know. The main thing is that we will carry on."
Charles Robinson, who runs a furniture shop a few doors away, stayed until around 1am on the night of the fire.
"It's an awful tragedy. Even though Woodgreen was our competitor we are very sorry that this has happened and we hope that they get up and running again as soon as possible," he said.
"It's just unreal. There were hundreds of people watching, but no one could do anything about it. It's an absolute miracle we're not in the same situation."
Ballymena Guardian editor Jim Flanagan said the town was resilient and his newspaper was among those offering the use of units in the town centre.
He said: "There's a lot of support in the community for the businesses affected and I have no doubt that these businesses will get up and running again fairly quickly.