A major incident was declared amid fears a building could collapse after a huge fire in Liverpool city centre.
Firefighters were called to a blaze on Fox Street at 2.18pm on Saturday and arrived to find a four-storey building measuring 100 metres by 50 metres “well alight”.
The building was showing signs of collapse and fire crews and police had to evacuating buildings, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service said.
At 4pm it was declared a major incident.
Footage showed the building engulfed in flames as a huge plume of black smoke billowed into the sky.
The smoke was visible in the city centre and the fire was being tackled during the Everton v Luton game at nearby Goodison Park.
There are no reports of casualties, the fire service said.
A cordon is in place around the building and the wider area, and roads have been closed including Fox Street, Rose Place, Great Richmond Street, Richmond Brow, Netherfield Road South, Everton Brow and Prince Edwin Street.
By 5pm, it was no longer classed as a major incident and the main body of the fire had been extinguished.
And by 6.30pm, nearby residents who had been evacuated were allowed back inside their homes.
Lara Buchanan, a trainee teacher from Liverpool, was driving through Kingsway Tunnel from the Wirral when she noticed a “dark rolling cloud” of smoke.
She said she could “feel the heat” of the blaze from her car and was shocked when she saw the extent of the fire.
Ms Buchanan, 23, told the PA news agency: “I could see the fire before entering the tunnel but didn’t know where it was coming from.
“As I came out of the tunnel into Liverpool, the sky was dark and all I could see was a black rolling cloud.
“The building was blazing alight and I could feel the heat from the car driving past.
“I was shocked to see the cloud and scared for whoever may be affected.”
Jose Garcia, 41, who is originally from Spain but has lived in Liverpool for 20 years, described the blaze as “the biggest fire I have seen in Liverpool”.
Mr Garcia, a secondary school teacher, said: “It was scary. I only noticed the fire when it had already started and (was) going strong.
“It was a relief to check it was a warehouse or building site, not a block of flats, it could have been devastating.
“(It is) the biggest fire I have seen in Liverpool, with huge, thick, black smoke going up into the city.”
A Liverpool resident, who did not wish to be named, said smoke “pretty much covered half of the skyline”.
He added: “As soon as I got out the car I could smell what I can only describe as burning plastic, it was pretty strong and I’m over the water in New Ferry.”
The fire service is urging people to avoid the area and nearby residents and businesses to close windows and doors.
A statement on Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service’s website says: “Fire crews have been called to a large fire on Fox Street, Liverpool City Centre, L3.
“12 fire engines and two aerial appliances are in attendance. Crews were alerted at 2.18pm and on scene at 2.23pm.
“Crews arrived to find a four storey building 100 metres x 50 metres well alight.
Cordons and road closures are in place, motorists and pedestrians should avoid the area. The fire has been significantly reduced but the incident is ongoing. pic.twitter.com/v3taaz4JRN
— Mersey Fire (@MerseyFire) January 27, 2024
“The incident has been divided into sectors, with firefighters wearing breathing apparatus fighting the fire with main branch hoses.
“The building is showing signs of collapse and fire crews are evacuating buildings.
“The incident is ongoing. Please avoid the area. Residents and businesses nearby should close windows and doors.
“If you have an existing health condition, keep medicines nearby and if any ill effects occur dial NHS 111 for advice.”