The major fire which gutted business premises in Ballymena on Tuesday has dealt local traders “a devastating blow”, the mayor of Mid and East Antrim has said.
Audrey Wales, herself a former retailer in the town, said she was “horrified and deeply saddened” by the scale of the devastation.
The blaze broke out in a furniture store on Broughshane Street at about 5pm, before quickly spreading to neighbouring premises.
There are fears four businesses have been destroyed, with three others also having suffered significant damage.
Woodgreen Furniture has been in business for almost 30 years and owner Adrian Taggart was visibly upset as he told UTV he and his wife were completely devastated by what had happened.
He added that they wanted to thank the people in the town and further afield for their support.
Meanwhile, the mayor said: “These businesses are well established in Ballymena and I know the traders involved personally, as do many throughout the town.
“To see their livelihoods reduced to ruins is a devastating blow which will be felt throughout Ballymena.”
Broughshane Street had to be closed overnight and disruption is expected to continue in the area for a number of days.
Nearly 60 firefighters, using eight fire engines and two aerial appliances, were needed to bring the blaze under control and remained at the scene until 11.30pm.
Audrey Wales added: “I want to thank the Fire Service, whose quick actions and bravery prevented the fire spreading further.
“One firefighter reportedly sustained minor injuries and I wish them a full and speedy recovery.”
The NI Fire and Rescue Service has said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
On Wednesday, the owners of the affected businesses were only able to watch as experts investigated whether the buildings could be saved.