A fire that swept through Ballymena town centre could result in job losses, the president of the town’s chamber of commerce has warned.
The blaze started at Woodgreen Furniture on Broughshane Street on Tuesday evening and has affected as many as five firms.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said last night that an investigation into the cause of the blaze was ongoing.
One of the businesses affected is the estate agent Rainey and Gregg Property Services.
The firm’s Vincent Rainey struck a resilient tone yesterday evening. Writing on Facebook, he said: “To the countless messages of support since our Broughshane Street office went up in flames - on behalf of the partners and all the staff I wish to say a heartfelt thank you. Thank God no one was injured physically, just emotionally.
“I moved here in 1989 so an upsetting evening has followed.”
He added: “The show must go on and with the benefits of technology business will not be affected.”
He also wished a “swift recovery to our long-standing business neighbours”.
The president of Ballymena Chamber of Commerce, Ronan McCann, said that five businesses were affected.
He added: “It is a hard set of circumstances those businesses are faced with. Unfortunately that’s just the nature of it. When fire takes hold it can spread in that kind of rampant fashion and this was a particularly bad one that seemed to spread fairly quickly. It is devastating news for those businesses who have been affected by it.”
Mr McCann continued: “You would have to think that with the extent of the damage and the loss of stock and so on, that it would maybe be natural that perhaps some job losses might follow. But, businesses can be rebuilt. The only real positive is that no one has lost their life.”
A neighbouring business expressed their sadness at the situation. A spokesperson from Sally’s Florist on nearby William Street said: “They are a family firm and they have been in Ballymena for a long time. We are in business over 30 years and they were going before we started.
“They would have employed a lot of people in Ballymena over the years. It was a quality place and their stock was of a very high quality.”
The local florist added: “There hasn’t been a death but it has still been a tragedy in a way.”
The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Audrey Wales, speaking at the scene yesterday morning, said: “I am horrified and deeply saddened by the scale of devastation caused by Tuesday’s fire.
“These businesses are well established in Ballymena and I know the traders involved personally, as do many throughout the town.
“To see their livelihoods reduced to ruins is a devastating blow which will be felt throughout Ballymena.”
UUP leader Robin Swann said: “I appeal to the other traders and the community to rally round these hard-hit traders. Knowing the people and traders of Ballymena as I do, I know they will unite and provide that necessary support.”
TUV leader Jim Allister added: “It is imperative that local and central government steps in.”