The fire service were working on Wednesday evening to ensure the “structural integrity” of the former Bank Buildings which was destroyed by fire on Tuesday.
While concerns about a possible collapse of the iconic building had eased by the afternoon, as a precaution a cordon remained in place around the building, which had been home to clothing retailer Primark.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Group Commander Alan O’Neill told the News Letter that, while the operation had been scaled down since Tuesday when nearly 100 firefighters were called into action, dozens of personnel were still being kept at the scene.
Asked if there was still a risk the building could collapse, he said: “Our priority will be managing the safety of the scene and that’s why we haven’t yet lifted that cordon.
“Until we get confidence around that we may have to take some further measures – whether that means some shoring or some sort of protective measure to prevent that going down. We will hopefully get through that today or tomorrow at the very latest.”
He continued: “We are going to be there throughout the rest of today hitting the hotspots until we get approval so we can work inside that inner cordon. The outer structure appears to be relatively stable – that appeared to be the case this morning. There were some areas of concern but we are just going to wait until we can get further examination into that.”
Concerns include a worry that steel beams throughout the historic building might have been damaged by the intense heat and subsequent cooling.
Mr O’Neill also revealed that the decision to employ a pump more frequently used to alleviate flooding to carry water directly from the Lagan had helped prevent the blaze spreading to nearby properties.
“It (the Lagan) is a ready water supply so it made sense,” he said. “We were cautious about the impact on traffic but it seemed like the right thing to do to control the fire.
“There was a potential that it could have spread to adjacent properties. The fire did not spread because we did get that extra water onto it.”