WATCH: Huge blaze at historic Belfast building destroys Primark store

A major blaze has destroyed a Primark store in a historic building in Belfast.

Flames and thick black smoke have engulfed the entire five-storey Bank Buildings.

The building, which has been in the heart of Belfast since 1787, had recently undergone a multimillion-pound refurbishment.

Primark shoppers and staff were evacuated from the building at around 11am on Tuesday after smoke could be seen billowing from the roof.

Flames reaching at least 50ft could be seen right across Belfast’s skyline.

The historic clock at the top of the building was engulfed in flames before the fire spread from the roof to the floor below.

Parts of the roof collapsed as thick black smoke and fire then ripped through the rest of the flagship store.

The building has survived bombs and fires throughout its long history in the city.

Last week, Primark announced a recruitment drive for more than 100 jobs as it is currently undergoing renovations to add 30,000 sq ft.

Work to complete the bigger store was to be completed by the end of the year.

The fire will have an impact on hundreds of jobs at Northern Ireland’s largest Primark store.

Emergency services were called to the scene at around 11am on Tuesday.

Hundreds of members of the public were removed from the area as police closed roads and diverted traffic to allow firefighters to tackle the blaze.

Loud bangs could be heard coming from the fire, while large pieces of debris were seen falling from the building.

There were no initial reports of injuries but that has yet to be confirmed by authorities.

Primark customers described smelling smoke inside the store before they were evacuated by staff.

Social media posts show thick black smoke surrounding the building on Royal Avenue.

Retail Northern Ireland chief executive Glyn Roberts described it as a “concerning development”.

He added: “The emergency services deserve credit for handling a very difficult situation in such a big store in a busy city centre without any reported injuries.

“This is a very concerning development, both for Primark and the city centre as a whole.

“Primark is a major attraction for Belfast and provides considerable footfall for surrounding traders.

“I hope that the store will reopen again in the near future.”

Joan McCoy, president of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA), said: “Thankfully there are no reports of any injuries arising from this major fire but it is a sad day for Belfast.

“Buildings like these help give Belfast its unique identity and character.

“The Bank Building is a very important part of the city’s architectural heritage and is loved by many.

“This building has survived bombs and fire before. We can only hope that the damage is not too severe and that the building can be saved.”

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said the response will continue throughout the rest of the day.

Residents and businesses have been warned to keep their windows and doors closed for the rest of the day.

Werner Schiffelers, a tour guide from the Netherlands, is staying in Belfast.

He was waiting on his guests returning from a tour of Titanic Belfast when he saw the fire.

The worldwide traveller said he has “never seen a fire like this”.

“We have to see if we can sleep in our hotel at the Ramada or not tonight, that is the big question,” he added.

“About 30 minutes ago it was almost out - only the roof was on fire, but now the complete building has gone.

“We were just here three hours ago when it started and now it is gone.”

He was broadcasting the blaze on Facebook live to followers around the world.