The manager of Poundstretchers in Derry has vowed that the company will bounce back bigger and better after an overnight fire gutted the building.
Store manager John Hamill was speaking as he joined some of the visibly upset staff who arrived to find the large, three-storey building on Bishop Street destroyed internally following the overnight inferno.
Over 50 fire-fighters worked through the night to prevent the blaze spreading to adjoining businesses.
Mr Hamill said that all 15 staff members at the store would keep their jobs in the long term.
He described how he was called to the scene at 1.25am and arrived within minutes to find “smoke billowing from top windows”.
He added that there was “not a lot of fire in sight, but throughout the night the fire took hold of the building and engulfed the whole building from top to bottom.
Negative is we lost the store; positive is we are going to go bigger and better.Store Manager John Hamill
“We were evacuated down to Lower Shipquay Street. Unfortunately the fire couldn’t be contained due to the stick levels we have in store, bedding, households, all that.
“The Fire Service did their best and credit to them from staff and management, They did a fantastic job to minimise the damage.
“We currently employ 15 people in store. My regional manager and our area managers have already been on to head office about getting this site fixed.
“Poundstretchers own the building so they will redevelop the building as soon as, and I don’t mean six months.”
Adding that while there may be some temporary impact on workers in terms of hours, “jobs will be safe in the long run.”
“And when we do redevelop we will go bigger and stronger,” he added. “Negative is we lost the store; positive is we are going to go bigger and better.”
Fire & Rescue Service Group Commander Colm McGuigan said: “The first fire crew was here just before 1.30am. Actually when the first crew arrived it wasn’t very evident what was on fire because the fire was developing behind roller shutters and it wasn’t until we opened up the roller shutters that we were able to see exactly what we faced.
“It’s a three storey building, and with the contents of the building is all very combustible stuff. And in fact there was 100 gas cylinders. All of them exploded over a period of two hours. Needless to say that hampered our fire-fighting efforts. It also fuelled the fire.
“At the height of the fire we had 53 fire-fighters in action. That involved using eight fire appliances and three specialist appliances as well. The damage was fairly extensive at Poundstretchers.”
He added that the main focus last night was damage limitation, and protecting the buildings either side of Poundstretchers.
“I’m glad to report we were able to achieve that,” he said.
City Centre manager Jim Roddy was among the first on the scene.
“I have to commend the fire fighters that were on duty last night for saving the buildings beside the building because they were very, very worried the fire would spread because the fire spread was very, very rapid.
“But obviously our thoughts turn very quickly to the 15 members of staff who were turning up here this morning to see their workplace just absolutely gutted, and the worry that lies there within that.
“It’s just a number of months ago we had the fire at Queen’s Quay where Mandarin Palace was very badly damaged but I was taking to the Area Manager this morning, there’s great resilience here. We are meeting later on to look at vacant premises around the city but she is convinced the company will get work at this building as soon as they get back in.”
Also praising the Fire Service, Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin said her thoughts were with the staff.
“Our thoughts are with the staff today. It’s difficult enough times, difficult times for individuals and families, difficult times for city centres so I would hope they can be relocated in other premises and talking to them this morning they are very, very determined to be relocated and to also be back on site on those premises and I think as a city we have to work collectively to make sure that that happens.”