An investigation is under way after a fire brought a town centre to a standstill and caused residents and restaurant customers to be evacuated.
Eight crews from St Annes, Lytham, South Shore, Blackpool, Bispham and Preston tackled a fire in the basement of the Barnado’s charity shop in St Annes Square, which broke out shortly before 7pm on Wednesday, and were on the scene for more than four hours.
There were no casualties but the closure of The Square, at the very heart of St Annes town centre, meant diversions for traffic, including buses and Bernardo’s expect the shop will be closed for two months.
Along with residents of flats close to the affected shop, the Prezzo restaurant and Subway sandwich shop in the same block were evacuated for the evening, but both were open for business as usual yesterday. Prezzo branch manager Daniel Magyar said: “We had around 50 diners in the restaurant, with more booked to arrive later, when the police told us we had to evacuate.
“It was shortly before 8pm and it was smoke that was the problem. Everyone left very calmly.
“There were eight staff on duty at the time - three in the kitchen and five in the restaurant and there were no lasting effects. We were open as normal for lunch the following day.”
Subway franchisee Anne Wade said: “We had five customers and two staff in the store at the time we were told by the police to evacuate.
“When we got the scene, I had never seen so many fire engines - but we were able to open as normal yesterday.”
Lancashire Fire and Rescue service group manager Jon Charters, who is the tactical advisor, said: “While it was not a particularly large incident, fighting fires in basements is more difficult and dangerous than on a ground floor – you have to get through the heat and smoke to get down into it, space is restrictive with little exit routes and it can be harder to move equipment into where it is needed.
“The work is more arduous and for these reasons we have a lot of firefighters available so that we can rotate them more quickly and have extra crews available in the event of any difficulties arising. Staff wearing breathing apparatus proactively fought the fire with hose reels and jets.
“Police put cordons in place and people from nearby flats and a restaurant were evacuated due to smoke.
“The cause of the fire is not yet known but an investigation has commenced.”
A Barnardo’s spokesmann said: “Thankfully nobody was in the building when the fire started at approximately 7pm and emergency services were quickly on the scene.
“Unfortunately there has been a lot of damage and it is likely the shop will be closed for a couple of months.
“We are working with the police to find out what caused the incident.”