THE operation to make the fire ravaged Cupola House in Bury St Edmunds safe and reopen town centre businesses took a dangerous new twist this morning.
Firefighters have removed all the rubble that spilled into Skinner Street but in doing so found movement in a twisted wall and a five storey high chimney.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council which has taken over the salvage operation from Suffolk Fire Service said it is not known if the chimney is safe or if it is merely being held up by rubble inside the Grade I listed 17th century building.
It is feared that as firefighters go in to remove rubble to get to the fire still burning in the basement, the chimney could collapse in any direction – and as a precaution because of that six businesses – Lloyds, Nationwide, Specsavers and Phones 4 U in the Buttermarket and Jessops and Sahara in The Traverse, will remain closed.
A crane is coming in at around 5pm tonight. Salvage crews will then have to painstakingly remove the chimney stack brick by brick.
But a spokeswoman for the council said that the weather could hamper this – wind and rain are forecast which will delay the work which in turn could mean that the six businesses remain closed until the beginning of next week.
At the same time firefighters will only find out once the rubble has been removed if the fire has spread to interconnected basements under the neighbouring shops.
The fire at the building, which served as Italian restaurant Strada, broke out on Saturday night. Some 120 people had to be evacuated while seven people living in flats above neighbouring shops have also had to move out of their homes.
Scaffolding has gone up to shore up the front of Cupola House allowing Halifax, Harriets tearooms and Laura Ashley to reopen.
This was after a small part of the front of the building was removed to stop it bowing out and reduce the risk of further collapse.
Despite this though a spokeswoman for the council said the building remains in a fragile state.