King’s Lynn came to a standstill as a major building fire broke out in a charity shop in the High Street yesterday.
Crowds of shoppers looked on as more than 40 firefighters tackled flames which engulfed the Sue Ryder store, thought to have around six flats above it.
Ten crews from across Norfolk raced to the blaze, which started around 10.30am.
It caused smoke to fill the historic Saturday Market Place and a wedding ceremony due to take place at the town hall later in the day was cancelled.
The Minster was shrouded with plumes of smoke which could be seen for miles and nearby shops and businesses including Goldings, Artertons, IBA Insurance and Deck of Cards had to close.
Haircuts had to be abandoned as No.4 hairdressers opposite Sue Ryder had to evacuate its clients.
Leanne Hillebrandt who works for nearby Cash Converters was among those evacuated.
She said: “It all happened so quickly. I saw smoke coming out of the roof and then the windows blew out and then it was engulfed in flames.”
Shopper Deborah Cole, of Hillington Square said she was there at the start of the incident.
“It was scary, I was walking towards the cake shop when I could see smoke, then I realised a flat was alight above the shop,” she said.
“I then saw glass smashing and black smoke coming out, it was very scary.”
Eyewitnesses said traffic was affected by road closures around the scene and the Saturday Market Place and Baker Lane car-parks were closed, leaving drivers unable to get to their cars.
PC Andy Wise, local policing team beat manager for Gaywood, Fairstead and Reffley, ensured crowds in the High Street stayed behind a safety cordon.
He said: “I’m trying to keep people back because some were still trying to get through so we have had to stop everybody.
“I believe there were no injuries. The fire brigade got there very quickly. It looks like they have got it under control.”
West Norfolk Mayor Nick Daubney paid tribute to the firefighters and other emergency services who attended the incident.
“I congratulate the services for getting everything under control so quickly.
“I was at the town hall this morning, but I was at a meeting elsewhere when the fire broke out. I heard everyone had to be evacuated and then a wedding was cancelled which must be dreadful.”
The mayor was also due to attend a full council meeting at the town hall last night, but West Norfolk Council confirmed it had been cancelled.
A spokesman for Sue Ryder said: “We can confirm that the fire that broke out this morning on King’s Lynn High Street started on the premises of our Sue Ryder shop, and that an investigation will be underway to determine the cause.
“Thankfully all staff, volunteers and customers were evacuated from the shop and were unharmed by the incident.”