Hundreds of firefighters arrived on Cathedral Green to tackle a fire in the early hours of this morning.
The Castle Fine Arts gallery is thought to have caught alight around 05:20 BST. The fire was believed to have been extinguished but has now spread to the roof of the neighbouring Royal Clarence Hotel, reportedly the oldest hotel in England. The blaze now seems also to have spread to the bottom floor of the hotel.
110 firefighters, police, paramedics and 20 fire engines were initially called to the site. Local residents were evacuated and there are no reported casualties, including the guests and staff of the Royal Clarence.
Student Giusy Urbano lives in the vicinity of Cathedral Green:
“We were woken up at around 5:30 in the morning by sirens and went outside to see what was going on. A police woman told us to that there was a fire and we had to evacuate for safety reasons, though we live a few buildings down. We were told to find somewhere to stay for a few hours and to grab some essentials.
“My flatmate opened a faucet and the water was boiling hot, clearly because the fire had warmed up the pipes in the road.
“It was pretty terrifying to watch – one of those things you look at with horror and awe at the same time.”
— Andy Moir (@AndyMoirKernow) October 28, 2016
According to the BBC Incident Officer, Bill Haberton, of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said the crew were “throwing a lot of resources” at the fire. They were reportedly overrunning the water supply in Central Exeter at first to tackle the flames.
Evacuees gathered by the Cathedral and were escorted by a member of staff to a hotel and given a hot drink. Giusy Urbano reports that what remains of the gallery is “just a skeleton” and there is “lots of debris and ash scattered about”.
Devon and Cornwall Police’s major incident control centre, Gold Command, is involved because of the severity of the threat.
Residents are expected to be allowed to return to their properties this afternoon or evening if the fire is extinguished.
UPDATE: Masonry has begun to fall from the building as the frontage begins to collapse.
XTV and Online News Editor Georgia Roberts were at the scene earlier today:
Some of the frontage of the Royal Clarence Hotel has now come down, smoke still billowing. pic.twitter.com/Xu1771MGnt
— Hamish Marshall (@bbchamish) October 28, 2016
— Exeposé News (@ExeposeNews) October 28, 2016
— Sam Morrell (@smorrell) October 28, 2016
— Sophi ✌ (@MsS_phi_) October 28, 2016
— Simon Hall (@SimonHallNews) October 28, 2016
— Devon&Somerset Fire (@DSFireUpdates) October 28, 2016