Firefighters continue tackling blaze after 'oldest hotel in England' gutted

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Firefighters are still tackling a blaze at the "oldest hotel in England" which has been gutted by fire.

Crews remained at the historic Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter where a ruptured gas main fuelled the flames on Saturday after the blaze spread from adjacent buildings on Friday morning.

The gas supply has since been turned off and the fire does not appear to be spreading, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said.

Fire broke out above the Castle Fine Art gallery where renovation work was under way, before spreading to the Well House Tavern, a cafe and the 18th century coaching inn.

A spokesman for the fire service said the gallery and hotel had been destroyed by the blaze, but that the cause of the fire was unknown.

He said that crews were unable to enter the hotel because it was too unstable and were instead using aerial ladder platforms to tackle the remaining pockets of fire.

The hotel's front fascia has partially collapsed and the interior has been gutted by the flames.

Around 150 firefighters tackled the blaze at its height, pumping water from the River Exe to put it out.

Local residents have been asked to restrict their water use to "make as much water as possible available" for use by emergency services.

South West Water tweeted: "Customers may experience supply issues during this time. Bottled water is available outside Costa on Bedford Street."

Fire crews are expected to remain at the scene tackling the blaze until Sunday.

Chief fire officer Lee Howell said: "We're grateful no one has been hurt in this incident but the community has lost a historic building which is a landmark of the city.

"The fire spread was compounded by the nature of these ancient buildings and their construction with common roof voids which allowed the fire to spread unseen from the origin of the fire.

"We kept significant resources at the scene to ensure we were able to deal with every eventuality and we will continue to do everything we can to protect the heritage of this city.

"I'd like to thank the public for their support and we will be working with other agencies to reduce disruption in the city centre as much as possible."

The Royal Clarence Hotel has stood on the same spot for 300 years and is reported to be the oldest hotel in England.

It escaped the 1942 Blitz by German bomber planes and was within the precincts of Roman Exeter, according to University of Exeter historian Dr Todd Gray.

Closed off roads as firefighters continue to tackle the blaze in Exeter
(Ben Birchall/PA)

He said it was a "heart-breaking" loss for the city, adding: "We have so little left and hopefully the fire will be contained and not spread further."

The 18th-century coaching inn, which is now called the Abode Hotel, is part of the Andrew Brownsword group.

A hotel spokeswoman said on Friday: "Following the morning's fire, all our guests and staff were evacuated and all are safe and accounted for."