UPDATE AND PICTURE GALLERY: Bury St Edmunds building and restaurant ravaged by fire
Part of Bury St Edmunds town centre is likely to remain sealed off for much of Sunday as police and fire experts begin an examination intO a major fire at one of its best-known building.
At about 2.30am this morning there was a major structural collapse at Cupola House, which is home to Strada restaurant, in The Traverse as firefighters continued to battle the fire.
Due to the blaze - which broke out just before 9pm last night reportedly in the cellar - the heart of the town centre has been cordoned off.
Skinner Street, The Traverse, Buttermarket and Cornhill are currently closed to vehicular traffic. There are also road closures on Guildhall Street at the junction with Churchgate Street, Woolhall Street at the junction with St Andrew's Street South and Abbeygate Street at the junction with Buttermarket.
The town centre remains open to pedestrians with restrictions on Skinner Street and The Traverse, and the majority of businesses are operating normally.
Sixteen appliances and more than 80 firefighters have been tackling the fire.
A fire broke out at a Strada restaurant in Bury St Edmunds late yesterday evening. The fire destroyed most of the historic 5 floor building on The Traverse.Speaking this morning, Jon Illingworth, deputy district commander for Bury St Edmunds with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, said Skinner Street was blocked due to a major structural collapse at the rear of the Strada building.
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He said because the fire started in the basement - which is where the kitchen is located - it had collapsed down onto it, adding how it was still burning underneath the collapse.
He said: 'We have still got the building at the front, but that's structurally unsound and the advice we are working under at the minute is not to allow members of the public anywhere near it which is why we have got exclusions on The Traverse and Skinner Street and on the Buttermarket.'
Mr Illingworth said the fire service would definitely be there for the day, adding how they were trying to work with the building's owners and occupiers about getting structural engineers out to start to try and evaluate the integrity of the building.
There will be a full fire investigation, but currently the fire service cannot get inside as the building is structurally unsound so they are working with the building's owners to try and build a history of events and will also obtain witness accounts.
Mr Illingworth confirmed that the fire had not spread to adjoining buildings.
He said: 'The crews worked exceedingly hard and did everything they could to prevent the fire spreading. We have confined it to the building of origin.'
He said at one point crews with breathing apparatus were below when the fire was spreading above them and so they could not commit them to the upper floors and had to withdraw.
He said the call about the fire came in at about 8.50pm and the fire service was there within minutes.
Diners in Strada - which is based within Bury's 400-year-old Cupola House - had been evacuated by restaurant staff.
Last night, members of the crowds gathered around the exclusion zone could be seen with tears in their eyes when the cupola collapsed before them.
Earlier on that night, eyewitness Keith Meekins, 58, who is from Bury, said: 'It's such a shame to see it. Let's hope they can save it. It's a lovely old building.'
A 39-year-old woman from the town, who did not wish to be named, said: 'It's just really sad because it's such a beautiful building.'
The new JD Wetherspoon pub in the historic Corn Exchange, which runs along The Traverse, shut at 10.40pm as the venue has no running water as it is being diverted to the fire.
But The Nutshell pub, in The Traverse, remained open. Manager Jack Burton said: 'I haven't seen the extent of the damage. I don't know what's happening up there.'