Hundreds of firefighters are battling a blaze which has ripped through buildings in Exeter, including the “oldest hotel in England”.
The fire is believed to have started at an art gallery which faces Exeter Cathedral in Devon, but has now spread to the nearby Royal Clarence Hotel.
About 110 firefighters, police and paramedics are at the blaze, which began at about 05:20 BST.
Historian Dr Todd Gray said the buildings were “hugely significant”.
He said: “It’s the building where they first declared themselves as a hotel, before that we had inns, but they took the new French word and applied it to their building. This was the place to stay.
“All these buildings have medieval origins and the buildings in between are very fine 17th century buildings of Exeter at its height. So whatever you see from the outside, it’s got a deeper, more interesting past just behind the plasterwork.
“It’s hugely significant for Exeter.”
Assistant Chief Constable Bill Skelly confirmed that a level of alert called Gold Command has been declared because of the seriousness of the incident.
The Canon at Exeter Cathedral said she had seen “flying debris”.
Anna Norman Walker, who can see the fire from her window, earlier said: “The main concern was a lot of debris flying from the roof of the affected building which was travelling – certainly some of it made it to the roof of the Royal Clarence Hotel.”
The hotel has been evacuated and all staff and residents are accounted for. There are no reported casualties.
A spokesperson from the hotel said: “We are continuing to monitor the situation and send our sympathy to our neighbours and all those affected by the fire.”
The fire service said air is being pumped through Costa and Laura Ashley – which are close to the buildings – to stop the fire spreading.
Cathedral Green was the medieval hub of the city. It’s not only where the church was concentrated, but it was the business hub of the city from the 15th to 18th centuries. This is where all the trade took place, this is where you did your business deals.
It was also where the anti slavery people met in the 1700s and 1800s, where they planned abolition.
Beatrix Potter came here in 1892 and looked out and said ‘what a fine view this is’. It was the place to be.
But the hotel had a murkier past later on when it was where the fascists met in the 1930s.
Millions of people over the years have poured into the close to have a look.
Gentlemen would rent rooms all year just to have a presence in Exeter.
To lose this would be a great tragedy for Exeter. It’s a key building – it’s the heart of the city.