INVESTIGATORS have begun the painstaking process of sifting through charred debris as they try to find out what sparked a devastating blaze at a landmark Leeds building.
Dozens of firefighters were involved in a battle to save the grade II-listed Majestic in City Square after an inferno that caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage and brought the city centre to a standstill.
A 32-year-old man was arrested in connection with the incident after reports of a man “acting suspiciously” in the area.
But officials from both West Yorkshire Police and the county’s fire brigade were keen to stress it was too early to tell whether the fire was deliberate.
Det Insp Ian Lawrence, of Leeds District CID, said: “We are working closely with fire service investigators to establish the cause of the fire and that process is at a very early stage.
“It is too early to say whether the cause of the fire has been suspicious. The fire has caused significant damage to the building, leaving the roof unsafe, which means it is likely to take some time before the scene can be fully examined.”
Assistant chief fire officer Dave Walton said nothing was being ruled out.
He added: “We’ll just sift through the debris and see what we can extract from that to give us some clues as to what the cause might be.”
The fire broke out at about 7.20pm on Tuesday. The city centre was locked down to help an operation that at its height involved 75 firefighter.
Ten fire engines attended the scene and crews used three aerial appliances to douse the flames.
Surrounding businesses were evacuated as smoke drifted across the city.
Businessman Andrew Latham watched events unfold from the top floor of the Park Plaza Hotel, where he was staying.
He said: “There was a bit of smoke and then a small amount of flames. And then it became what seemed like a raging furnace that was out of control.
“I woke up in the morning fully expecting to see it really badly damaged, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought which is a testament to the work of the fire crews for stopping it spreading.”
The incident was largely under control by midnight, but pockets of fire remained alight into yesterday and surrounding roads were closed, with public transport using other routes, for most of the day.
The majority of the building, which started life as a cinema in 1921 before becoming a dance hall, bingo hall and latterly a nightclub, escaped irreparable damage.
But the ornate domed roof was almost completely destroyed, along with some of the windows.
The nearby Quebecs hotel was open as usual yesterday but resturant Sous Le Nez told customers it would be closed until further notice.
The Grade II-listed building used to be home to Leeds’ most luxurious super-cinema. Opened on June 5, 1922, its fan-shaped auditorium seated 2,800 people.
In 1969 the became a bingo club and in 1996, it was the Majestyk nightclub. Leeds-based Rushbond Plc took it over in 2010 and gave the grand old building a major refurbishment.
• Video by Andrew Latham, chief executive of Ice Lolly