A fire broke out at a landmark Primark store in Belfast city centre this morning and has devastated the building.
The blaze is understood to have started at the top of the five-storey building. It has since spread throughout the Castle Street shop and the roof has collapsed.
The Irish News has reported that the building has been “gutted”.
Fire crews were called at 11am. Eighty firefighters and 14 fire appliances have been battling the fire.
Emergency services asked people to avoid the area and advised local residents and businesses to keep their doors and windows closed.
A number of streets in the surrounding area, as well as the nearby CastleCourt shopping centre, have been closed while the fire continues.
The store, in the Bank Buildings, was in in the middle of a major refurbishment to expand along Castle Street at an estimated cost of £30m.
Primark chief executive Paul Marchant said: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the fire. The safety and wellbeing of our customers, colleagues and construction team is of course the most important consideration and we are truly relieved that all were evacuated safely.
“We would like to thank the emergency services for their swift response and ongoing actions.
“Our store is housed in an iconic building and much loved by the people of Belfast. We would like to reassure our customers, colleagues and the wider community in Belfast that we are committed to working with the authorities and our building contractors to establish the cause of the fire.
“We are working closely with our team in Belfast to ensure they are fully supported during this challenging period. We would like to thank everybody for their support during this difficult time.”
Built in 1785, the Bank Buildings have been owned by Primark since 1979.
President of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, Joan McCoy, told the Irish News the blaze was a “sad day for Belfast”.
“Buildings like this help give Belfast its unique identity and character,” she said. “The Bank Buildings are a very important part of the city’s architectural heritage and are loved by many.”