The cause of a fire which required nearly 60 firefighters from stations all over Co. Antrim to bring under control is still under investigation.
The major blaze in Ballymena town centre on Tuesday evening was witnessed by hundreds of horrified onlookers.
At least four commercial properties were gutted by the fire, which broke out at a furniture shop on Broughshane Street around 5pm.
The street was cordoned off while crews from several surrounding fire stations battled the flames. The fire was already well alight when emergency services arrived on the scene.
A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) Spokesperson said: “We received a call at 5.08pm yesterday evening (30 May 2017) to attend a fire in a furniture store at Broughshane Street, Ballymena.
“On arrival at the incident, initial crews were confronted by a well-developed fire in the property.
“The fire broke through the roof and spread to 5 adjoining commercial premises – three of which were extensively damaged by the fire.
“In total eight Fire Appliances, one Aerial Platform Appliance, a Command Support Unit and 58 Firefighters were involved in intensive firefighting operations which continued until 11.29pm on Tuesday evening.
“The cause of the fire is under investigation.”
The catastrophic blaze was witnessed by hundreds of horrified locals and social media was filled with dramatic pictures and footage from the scene as the ubiquitous cameraphone captured the unfolding drama.
Among the businesses destroyed on the terraced street were Woodgreen Furniture – where the fire initially broke out – Rainey and Gregg estate agents, and McAtamney’s Solicitors.
Eugene Diamond, a local newagent, said: “It’s heart-breaking to see businesses that have contributed so much to Ballymena over so many years, destroyed in a matter of minutes.
“Woodgreen has been around for around 30 years, and Rainey and Gregg for about 20 years. I can remember those shops being built, it was on the site of an old mill.
“It is a real shame to see them go. Hopefully some of these businesses can be relocated.”
TUV MLA Jim Allister said: “The loss of several businesses, patiently built up over the years, in tonight’s horrendous fire in Broughshane Street is a severe blow to the entire town.
“Jobs and key retail and office premises have been lost. It is imperative that local and central government steps in with all possible assistance to help relocate these businesses and get them up and running again.
“I also wish to pay tribute to the Fire Service for its gallant efforts which brought the fire under control. I trust the injured officer will make a full and speedy recovery.”
Alliance representative, Patricia O’Lynn, also expressed concern that the fire could lead to job losses.
She said: “A number of businesses have been destroyed and others damaged in this major fire. There is real concern that jobs could be lost as the owners seek to rebuild or relocate their businesses. It will be some days before the full extent of the damage can be assessed, but I would hope all statutory agencies and relevant insurance companies can work as quickly as possible to help owners get up and running again.”