Hereford & Worcester

Historic Hereford pub destroyed by fire

A 15th Century pub has been gutted in a fire which spread through a historic part of Hereford city centre.

More than 100 firefighters were called to the High Town area, where Booth Hall was engulfed in flames.

Police said an electrical fault was believed to have caused the fire, which broke out at about 0425 BST.

Three four-storey buildings containing River Island, Card Factory, Ann Summers and a mobile phone shop were also badly damaged, the fire service said.

The Booth Hall site, which dates back to 1392 and became a pub in the 15th Century, is a separate building.

The fire was brought under control in eight hours but firefighters remained at the scene to damp down.

Firefighters were expecting to remain at the scene on Thursday night and were still dealing with "hot spots" at various sites.

A spokesman for Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service said there was a real risk of some damaged buildings collapsing.

Preparations were under way to demolish some buildings amid fears they would collapse and hurt members of the public as well as damage surrounding buildings.

Up to 25 shops could not open on Thursday because of the fire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce said.

Many buildings in High Town were expected to be cordoned off on Friday.

The fire service said there were no reports of anybody being trapped or injured.

'Extremely difficult'

The fire is believed to have started in Card Factory before spreading to neighbouring shops. Four people had to leave city centre flats, Herefordshire Council said.

High Town, the Buttermarket, St Owen Street and St Peter's Square were closed but the Shire Hall was opened for the city centre's shop workers to gather and get the latest information.

Image caption Card Factory was among the shops damaged

Maylords Orchard, Widemarsh Street, Broad Street, Commercial Street and Commercial Road were open.

The Old House near Card Factory, which is on the edge of St Peter's Square and the High Town, was saved from damage.

The buildings involved suffered severe fire damage, as well as major structural damage, the fire service said.

Chief fire officer Mark Yates said the fire proved difficult to tackle because it was in the older buildings of Hereford city centre.

"From years gone by the buildings are all built into one another, so it's extremely difficult to stop a fire spreading," he said.

'Major impact'

Twenty fire engines were called to the scene and the area affected measured about 100m by 80m, the fire service said.

Insp Bob Barnett, from West Mercia Police, said some staff living in the Booth Hall had been evacuated. It was believed nobody was living in the other properties affected.

Image caption Twenty fire engines were at the scene

Bus services in St Peter's Square were disrupted, police said.

Gary Woodman, head of policy and education at the chamber of commerce, said the fire was going to have "a major impact" on trading.

He said: "People will avoid the town centre today and this will affect the surrounding businesses who have managed to open.

"The impact in the medium term is unknown at the moment as it will depend on the severity of the fire and how long businesses are required to close."

The council pledged support to local businesses affected by the fire by helping them to find alternative suitable premises.

The economic development team was scouring the city to identify potential properties for temporary or permanent occupation.

An investigation into the cause of the fire has started and anyone with information has been asked to contact Hereford police.

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