Shoppers evacuated in High Street drama
9:00am Thursday 6th September 2012 in News
DOZENS of people were evacuated from shops on Oxford High Street yesterday following a blaze.
Four fire engines were called to Reed employment agency in the city centre at about 10.50am after retail staff next door in clothing store Whistles spotted smoke coming into the shop through a ceiling.
Firefighters placed a cordon around clothes shop Jack Wills and LK Bennett, as well as Reed and Whistles. Pizza Hut also closed during the fire although it was not within the cordon.
A member of Reed staff, who declined to be named, told the Oxford Mail: “There was lots of smoke coming through the floorboards, but no flames.”
Another said that no-one had been injured in the incident and added: “The girls upstairs said they could see smoke coming from below their feet.”
Staff from the evacuated shops waited in the street while firefighters dealt with the blaze.
They were let back in at 1.05pm when the crews left.
Crowds of people gathered to watch the incident, which saw the High Street closed between Alfred Street and the A4158 Iffley Road while the fire was dealt with.
Dave Bray, station manager at Rewley Road fire station, said the fire was in the structural timbers of Reed on the first and second floor in the rear of the building.
The damage was contained to the timber and the wall cavity of the building.
Paul Smith, spokesman for Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue, said: “In the building there are quite a few wooden wall beams.
“Because the fire was in the wall, the smoke was getting into the wall cavity.
“What the firefighters first saw when they arrived was smoke coming from the roof, but it was actually coming through the wall cavity.”
Firefighters believe the blaze was caused accidentally by workmen working on Reed’s asphalt roof.
James Keating-Wilkes, from South Central Ambulance Service, said no ambulance had been sent to the incident.
A Reed spokesperson said: “There was a small fire and the building was evacuated as well as the surrounding shops.
“Staff were let back into the building after the incident.
“We do not know how much damage there has been.”
Roz Downer, assistant manager at Jack Wills, said their shop was not damaged and Whistles also confirmed their building was able to reopen.