Belfast factory fire leaves owner without even a chair to sit on

Owner Tony Abbate said his business was left as 'just a big black mess'
Owner Tony Abbate said his business was left as 'just a big black mess'

A factory owner said he watched everything he had worked for his entire life go up in smoke as his business burned to the ground.

Tony Abbate was left without even a chair to sit on in the blackened shell of what was the Belfast Crystal manufacturer.

Police are treating the catastrophic blaze as suspicious.

Mr Abbate, the son of Italian immigrants, said: “Everything I ever worked for is gone, every single piece of machinery, every piece of glassware ever made – there is nothing left.

“It is just a big black mess on the floor.”

The firm at the Kennedy Way industrial estate in the west of the city was engulfed in flames on Saturday night as 40 firefighters battled to save it.

A nearby shopping centre was evacuated as the blaze threatened neighbouring buildings.

The father of a three-year-old daughter said only the facade of the hand-cut glassware company was left.

He added: “Everything else is gone. It is gut-wrenching.

“I am devastated. 40 years of family business up in smoke.”

He appealed to well-wishers for equipment such as Portakabins or skips. A Gofundme webpage is in the process of being established.

“We are sitting in a shell of a factory,” he said. “We don’t even have anywhere to sit down to see what we are going to do.

“I have no job on Monday morning and I have no income. I cannot sell any glass.

“Everything we worked for our whole lives was reinvested in the factory.”

Three generations of the family worked at the factory, said Mr Abbate.

He said his Italian father Antonio, who is now aged 83, came to Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles to train glassblowers.

He moved from Tyrone Crystal to establish his own firm. It would have been open 40 years next year.

His son said: “I don’t know if my father will recover. It gave him a purpose to get up and if he sits in the house, I don’t know.”

Fire appliances, a high-reach aerial machine and a command unit attended and the firefighting operation was “extensive”, a statement from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said.

Fire crews arrived at about 6pm and were confronted by a well-developed fire in the property.

Gas cylinders were on the premises.

A statement from the PSNI said: “The premises have sustained substantial damage as a result of this fire, which is being treated as suspicious at this time.”

Officers appealed for anyone with information to contact them.