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Blaze ‘devastating’ to witness

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Cannot hide the heartache: Gavin Smith, of Chewstick, holds the charred remains of a guitar (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

An apocalyptic atmosphere shrouded Front Street early yesterday as heavy rain and booming thunderclaps punctuated a formidable inferno.

Business owners and employees looked on in horror as the blaze tore through multiple venues, while firefighters battled to bring it under control.

Richard Lines, the owner of tourist store Onion Jack’s, said he was “dumbfounded” to see his shop go up in flames, adding that the “surreal” situation felt like something from a film.

Bill Zuill, a director at Bermuda Executive Services, stood behind the police barrier surveying the scene as it unfolded.

“It’s devastating to watch. That’s 18 years of work, everything is in that building,” he said.

Gavin Smith, founder and executive director of the Chewstick arts charity, described the scene as “heartbreaking”, after his site succumbed to both fire and water damage.

As firefighters battled the inferno into the afternoon, a steady stream of onlookers came and went — from cyclists at daybreak to the crew of a container ship, which stopped to rubberneck before continuing its ocean journey.

Despite the sombre nature of the incident, those affected tried to remain in positive spirits, sharing breakfast and coffee with emergency services and other involved parties. Not all were so stoic, however, as tempers occasionally frayed among commuters attempting to enter Hamilton to begin their working day.

Spurling Hill was one of numerous areas to endure gridlocked traffic — as just one car at a time edged through the traffic lights each time they turned green.

With sections of Front Street and Reid Street closed for the morning, some aggrieved residents took to arguing with law enforcement as they attempted to access cordoned-off areas.

But while the fire inconvenienced many for one morning, it has turned the lives of an unfortunate few upside-down. Their rebuilding process starts now.

As Dawn Zuill, the owner of Queen Management Services, reflected last night, the support of the community has already proved crucial.

“We are heartened by the amazing support that we have from the community and the number of people who have come forward and offered to help,” Mrs Zuill said.

“We are also grateful to our staff for stepping up and continuing to provide quality service to all our clients and customers. It’s been absolutely amazing.”

Ravaged by flame: this overhead shot shows the extent of damage to the building (Photograph by Steven Caisey
Inferno: firefighters tackle a blaze next to the Freisenbruch-Meyer building on Front Street (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Welcome rest: firefighters pause briefly to take breakfast (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)