Babel fire: fire in Belfast city center treated as ‘accidental’

The boss of a Belfast city center hotel has said a fire that swept through the popular rooftop bar on Tuesday night is considered “accidental”.

The fire centered around the rooftop bar at Babel, part of the Bullitt Hotel complex on Church Lane. The road around the hotel was closed for several hours on Tuesday while several firefighters were deployed from across the city.

Photos of the scene showed smoke rising from the patio, engulfing side streets with thick smoke before it was brought under control with air devices used to pour water on it from above.

Read more: ​​​Babel fire: Damage to Belfast city center hotel under assessment after rooftop bar catches fire

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has confirmed that it has dispatched eight aircraft and an aerial platform to the scene.

No one was injured and all guests and staff were safely evacuated.

The fire was confined to back rooms.

Conall Wolsey, of the Beannchor Group that owns the hotel, said he had left the hotel around 4 p.m. Tuesday and had just come home when he informed him of the fire.

“I thought ‘no disaster after Covid’ and I wasn’t 100% sure that at that exact moment everyone had come out. Fortunately, with all our safety and training procedures, everyone was out within minutes,” he told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster.

Mr Wolsey confirmed that the hotel will be closed for the rest of the week.

On Wednesday he will arrive on site with a structural engineer and a contractor to inspect the damage.

“I was there until after midnight. Myself and six of the team were clearing out the guests’ belongings in bedrooms and returning it to them,” he added.

Mr Wolsey confirmed that two rooms – the kitchen and the technical room – in the hotel’s rooftop bar were destroyed.

“There is severe smoke and water damage to the building,” he said, adding that it could have been much worse.

He also paid tribute to the fire service for their ‘quick response’.

“This could have been a lot worse, we got everyone out safely and I want to say a big thank you to the fire service who I believe definitely saved the building. It was their quick response and their communication with us as building owners that really made the day saved.”

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Team Babel said: “The Babel team would like to thank the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service who worked tirelessly throughout the afternoon and evening to ensure the fire at the hotel was under control.

“We would also like to thank our dedicated and hard-working team who assisted in the safe evacuation of all staff and guests and also assisted in the resettlement of those affected.

“We are currently assessing the damage and can confirm that the hotel will be temporarily closed until the end of this week pending further details.

“Our reservations team is in the process of contacting all of our guests affected by this announcement.

“We can only apologize for the inconvenience this will cause and thank you for your understanding and patience at this time.”

The rooftop bar is part of the Bullitt Hotel complex on Ann Street in the city center.

NIFRS Gruppenkommandeur David Harbinson said that when the fire service arrived on the scene, the fire was developing well and said it was “a complex operation”.

“It broke through the roof. It originated on the top floor and once it broke through the roof, the oxygen started feeding the fire,” he said.

“We could have had a building engulfed in fire, which could have spread to adjacent properties. It was really up to the crews to make sure it didn’t become a major incident,” he added.

Mr Harbinson said the fire was considered an accident.

“We had originally believed, based on information we were given, that it was being distributed through an extraction system.

“Once we put it out we thought it started on the top floor and we’re leaning towards an electrical fire, but we’ll do a thorough investigation,” he said.

“We are not concerned about malicious or intentional acts,” he added.

The fire caused significant traffic disruption to road users in the city center during one of the busiest times of the day, as Victoria Street between Ann Street and High Street was closed while the fire was fought.

By 10:15 p.m., about 60 firefighters had the fire under control.

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