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 in the unoccupied building at about 7.20pm on Tuesday. The city centre was locked down to help an operation that at its height involved 75 firefighters.
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.
Most of the building escaped irreparable damage but its ornate domed roof was almost completely destroyed, along with some of the windows.
The Majestic opened amid much fanfare in 1922 as a 2,400-seater cinema and restaurant-cum-ballroom.
More recently it had spells as a bingo hall and the Majestyk nightclub before the latter closed its doors in 2006. An ambitious bid to transform the property into a £14m Las Vegas-style casino stalled before it was bought in 2010 by its current owner, Leeds-based property company Rushbond.
Plans to turn it into an entertainment complex were given the green light by councillors in 2011, with an acclaimed refurbishment of the building being completed the following year.
Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan said yesterday that it was his understanding that the site was “very close” to being let.
The nearby Quebecs hotel was open as usual yesterday but restaurant Sous Le Nez told customers it would be closed until further notice.