Fire-crews have been working through the night to tackle a blaze which broke out early Friday morning at the Castle Fine Arts gallery on Exeter’s Cathedral Green. It is now reported to have started around 05:00 BST.
Sources on the ground last night stated the best possible outcome is for the fire now be contained within the buildings already alight, and to prevent spread in the historically significant district of Exeter city centre. No casualties have been reported.
Heading to scene of major fire in Exeter. After 25 years as a journalist I rarely get nervous about stories but today… pic.twitter.com/ZLe2L3qTfb
— Simon Hall (@SimonHallNews) October 29, 2016
At the site last night, it was clear that the Royal Clarence Hotel, the oldest hotel in England, is all but hollowed out. The fire had by then spread north towards the high street. This was caused by a change in wind direction late afternoon, according to Community Support Officers guarding the hundred metre cordon. BBC Spotlight confirmed that the back-end of Costa Coffee was alight.
Sympathies swept the Twitter-sphere; some commenting on national television coverage of the event, or the lack thereof. Exeter’s MP, Ben Bradshaw, was among those to mourn the devastation.
Horrible pictures of devastating #Exeter fire. https://t.co/axsfbgPzgV Our historic Royal Clarence Hotel and Well House pub smoking shells
— Ben Bradshaw (@BenPBradshaw) October 28, 2016
The cause is as yet unknown; and a full investigation will not begin until the fire it fully subdued, however, it is being treated as non-suspicious. Emergency service operatives say they fully expect to be on-site until next week to settle the blaze. Public access to both Cathedral Green and the high street will be disrupted all this weekend, causing disruption to bus services county-wide.
One Exeter resident, who has lived in the city for 42 years, lamented the irreparable damage many buildings in Exeter suffered during the Second World War. They emphasised how it is crucial to protect the surviving Exeter heritage at all costs.
Due to the immense pressure put on water mains in central Exeter, the Fire Brigade have now laid pipes to the Quay a half kilometre away to subsidise water being pulled from the grid. Wessex Water warning city-centre residents and business yesterday to curb their water usage, a firefighter from Wellington, Somerset told us.
Devastating images showing only part of the destruction at the #exeterfire. A sad day for the city. @DSFireUpdates @SWASFTHART @DC_Police pic.twitter.com/SW1Dutwnrs
— Alliance Pol Drones (@PoliceDrones) October 28, 2016
The atmosphere on Friday evening was relaxed. Nightlife carried on relatively undisturbed, with one large group of students singing “Exeter’s on fire; Exeter is burning!” On the cordon edge and on the Green, officers were settling in for the night by handing out sweets and chatting to bystanders. The fire brigade set up a centre of operations outside the Cathedral; the ‘white-hats’ are in charge of the whole operation and were unable for comment. Officers not on duty enjoyed mugs of coffee in a makeshift canteen area.
Heavy equipment — “bigger pumps!” as one officer described them — were due to arrive early Saturday to aid the operation. Crews from across the Southwest were arriving throughout the night. Rumours circulated that a road collision in the Exeter area was stretching the service, but the streets were lined with engines.
Meanwhile, ABode Hotels, the chain which owns the Royal Clarence, have released the following statement on Twitter:
Thank you for your continued support, a deeply sad day for us all #Exeterfire pic.twitter.com/kGzWLbtGNk
— ABode Exeter (@abodeexeter) October 28, 2016