Major fire at Primark store in Belfast city centre

A major blaze has broken out at a Primark store in Belfast city centre causing devastation to a historic building erected centuries ago.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) is currently in attendance at the scene.

Shoppers and staff were evacuated from the historic five-storey building at around 11am on Tuesday.

Huge plumes of black smoke and flames could be seen coming from the roof of the Bank Buildings, which is home to the Primark store.

The landmark was erected in 1785, built in red Dumfries sandstone. Credit: PA

The store has recently undergone refurbishment.

Social media posts show the smoke billowing right across Belfast.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the NIFRS said: “NIFRS received a call at 11am today to a fire on the top floor of the Primark building – a five-storey commercial property in the Castle Street area of Belfast.

“Eleven appliances are in attendance. The building has been evacuated.

“The public are advised to avoid the Castle Street/Royal Avenue area whilst the incident is ongoing.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland also issued a warning to motorists to avoid the area.

A number of diversions are in place at Bridge Street, High Street, Castle Street and Queen’s Street as well as Royal Avenue and North Street to allow the fire service to deal with the ongoing incident.

Police have advised drivers to seek an alternative route.

Crowds near the scene of the blaze in Belfast. Credit: PA

There were no initial reports of injuries, but that has s yet to be confirmed by the authorities.

One witness said he spotted smoke coming from the roof of the building and alerted the security guards inside the store.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, said it appeared that the security guards were not aware of the fire.

He also claimed he could not hear any alarms alerting the staff and public.

“They didn’t know it was on fire and we had to tell them,” he added.

“I couldn’t hear any alarms going off either.”

A spokesman for Primark said that the fire alarm did activate.

In a statement, he said: “Our Belfast store on Castle Street was safely evacuated this morning (Tuesday) following a fire on the roof.

“Fire services are attending the scene and working to extinguish the fire.”

A PSNI officer at the scene in Belfast. Credit: PA

Customers described smelling smoke inside the store before being told by staff to leave the building.

Loud bangs could be heard coming from the fire while large pieces of debris were seen falling from the building.

The fire service has said the incident is likely to continue throughout he rest of the day. Around 80 firefighters are currently battling the blaze.

Residents and businesses are being advised to keep their windows and doors shut as a precautionary measure.

SDLP councilor Tim Attwood said the scenes at the historic building are “devastating” and “extremely worrying”.

“The iconic building that is home to Primark, which has been undergoing refurbishment work, is being threatened by a fire,” he said.

“My thoughts are with the staff and the emergency services who are battling to control the flames.”

Around 80 firefighters are attended the blaze. Credit: PA

Joan McCoy, president of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects said the fire a sad day for Belfast.

"Thankfully, there are no reports of any injuries arising from this major fire but it is a sad day for Belfast.

"Buildings like these help give Belfast its unique identity and character.

"The Bank Building is a very important part of the city's architectural heritage and is loved by many," she said.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said the response will continue throughout the rest of the day.

Residents and businesses have been warned to keep their windows and doors closed for the rest of the day.

Werner Schiffelers, a tour guide from the Netherlands, is staying in Belfast.He was waiting on his guests returning from a tour of Titanic Belfast when he saw the fire.

The worldwide traveller said he has "never seen a fire like this".

"We have to see if we can sleep in our hotel at the Ramada or not tonight, that is the big question," he added.

"About 30 minutes ago it was almost out - only the roof was on fire, but now the complete building has gone.

"We were just here three hours ago when it started and now it is gone."

He was broadcasting the blaze on Facebook live to followers around the world