Forensic tests are underway to establish if an overnight fire at a Derry city centre bar was arson.
The NI Fire and Rescue Service said this morning that the blaze at Masons Bar in Castle Street may have been started deliberately.
The proprietors are awaiting the results of police forensic tests to establish the exact cause of the fire which broke out in the early hours of this morning.
Despite the damage, which was described as “significant,” the bar owners hope it will be a case of ‘business as usual’ this weekend.
The NI Fire and Rescue Service were dispatched to the Castle Street premises after a nearby publican discovered the blaze shortly after 4.30am. One Castle Street resident was also evacuated as a result of the incident.
A total of eight fire appliances attended the scene, including an aerial ladder platform and two trucks from Northland Station, two appliances from Crescent Link, as well as a command support unity and one appliance from Kilrea Fire Station in Co. Derry.
A spokeserson for the Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Fire crews attended a fire in the first floor of a bar, the blaze was well developed on arrival. At this stage the fire is thought to have been started deliberately. No injuries were reported, though the bar was badly damaged. The scene was handed over to the PSNI at 6.47am.”
Masons Bar manager and owner, Billy Campbell said: “Only for the grace of God no-one was hurt. Thankfully that is the case. Everything that is damaged can be replaced but it looks like we’ll be closed for a few days at least until we clear up the smoke damage anyway.”
The alarm was raised when the publican at the Castle Bar heard the fire as he was closing his premises. The Castle Street entrance to Masons was engulfed in flames which had also spread to scaffolding erected on neighbouring buildings.
“The bar is gutted with smoke,” said Mr. Campbell. “We are awaiting the investigating officers from the Fire Service; until they complete their report we won’t know what caused it but the main thing is no-one was hurt.”
Mr. Campbell singled out the bar man who raised the alarm and the Fire Service for praise for their prompt actions.
“I can’t thank them enough. Who knows what would have happened if the fire wasn’t detected so early or the Fire Service hadn’t been as prompt in their actions?
“I would also like to thank all the staff; they made themselves available to help and we’ve had friends and offers of assistance coming out of the woodwork all day. Even though I’m exhausted it has been really good in terms of people coming together to help me.
“We just have to wait to learn the cause of the fire now.”