Town rallies to support Harrogate blaze victims

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A relief fund set up to help victims of a devastating fire which ripped through central Harrogate yesterday has seen overwhelming support.

There was a queue of supporters outside Natwest bank as it opened this morning, all laden with bags of clothes, food and donations for those who lost their homes in the blaze at Prezzo restaurant.

NADV 1403181AM14 Fire on Albert Street. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1403181AM14)

NADV 1403181AM14 Fire on Albert Street. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1403181AM14)

“The response has been unbelievable - the whole community is pulling together,” said organiser Gayle Wise.

“We had to do something to help. These people have literally been left with the clothes they stand up in.”

Firefighters were today still at the scene of the fire on Albert St, damping down after the fierce blaze which destroyed a popular restaurant and flats above.

The blaze, which broke out in the kitchens at lunchtime, quickly spread through the old three-storey building, ravaging four flats above and damaging many more.

Nobody was injured but several small pets, including cats and rabbits, were trapped in the building.

And, as Harrogate woke up this morning to the reality of yesterday’s fire, dozens of people started to come forward to set up a relief fund for those who lost everything in the blaze.

Miss Wise, who works at Natwest bank and asked to use the building as a base for the fund after seeing yesterday’s drama unfold, said the response had been amazing.

Within the first few hours, more than £800 in cash had been donated, alongside vouchers from Marks & Spencers, food from Tesco, toiletries from Boots, and the promise of a fundraiser from local company CNG.

Volunteers Lorraine Wray and Diane Skaith have been working in the bank through the day, bagging up emergency supplies for the residents who have been put in temporary accommodation in hotels as they wait to hear what will happen.

Among those who lost everything in yesterday’s fire was Allan Tenant, who has lived in the flats for 11 years.

As he fled the fire yesterday morning, he was told that his two black and white cats, Fuzz and Growler, would likely have been killed.

“I was going to pick them up and I just panicked,” he said. “I hope they are still there but the fire man said they won’t still be alive. They are my cats, they are my life.

“That is my home gone up in flames, I am going to be homeless.”

Firefighters from Harrogate were first called to the scene at 11.30am yesterday morning, after reports of a kitchen fire in the extractor fan and ducts.

The fire appeared to be under control for some time but, it’s now emerged, it spread through wall and floor cavity’s in the old building, gathering pace and taking hold.

Firefighters wearing specialist breathing apparatus had to leave the building as it became too dangerous when walls and stairs started to collapse.

Firefighter Lee Smith, commander for the Harrogate area, said: “We did withdraw our firefighters who had been inside because of the conditions. It’s not safe inside.

“It was a very complicated and difficult fire. There are lots of spaces between windows and floors which allowed the fire to move around the building. We were chasing it.

“It’s part of the design of these old building in Harrogate, it’s full of nooks and crannies allowing the fire to spread.”

Calling for backup from 18 engines across North and West Yorkshire, they fought the fire using water jets from the outside, smashing windows to minimise damage if an explosion occurred.

Huge clouds of billowing smoke which engulfed much of Harrogate town centre brought traffic to a halt and could be seen for miles around.

Businesses closed as thick smoke filled the town centre, firefighters and police urging residents to close doors and windows and setting up cordons to keep away crowds who gathered to watch.

By 2.30pm the blaze reached its peak, with flames seen billowing from the roof of the old three-storey building, and more than 90 firefighters battling the fire.

The fire was brought under control by late afternoon and firefighters started to scale back through the evening.

Crews stayed at the scene overnight, damping down the fire, and there are two still fire engines on Albert St this morning.

A spokesman for the fire service has said the fire is now under control but the road and businesses nearby remain closed as fire crews make the scene safe.

An investigation is to be held in what caused the blaze.

Prezzo chief executive Jonathan Kaye said today: “ We are thankful that no one was injured as a result of the fire at Prezzo in Harrogate yesterday morning.

“We thank and applaud the actions of the fire brigade in dealing with the fire.

“We will assist the fire brigade with their investigation to establish the cause of the fire.

“Overall the most important factor is that there were no casualties as a result of this terrible incident.”