HISTORY went up in smoke and then collapsed in a pile of rubble.
Ashen faces watched in disbelief as exhausted firefighters tried to save one of Bury St Edmunds most historic buildings.
And the flames that destroyed the 17th century Grade I listed Cupola House are still burning, buried under the pancaked wreckage of floors and ceilings.
An investigation into the fire, which broke out in the kitchen in the basement of the Strada Italian restaurant in Cupola House on Saturday night, is under way.
But the effects of the fire are still being felt by seven businesses which have been forced to remain closed.
Tuesday evening saw the arrival of a crane and salvage crews will have to painstakingly remove a five-storey chimney, brick by brick, amid fears it could topple on to nearby shops.
However, forecasts of rain and wind are expected to hamper this – meaning the Lloyds TSB Bank, Nationwide Building Society, Specsavers, Phones 4 You, Sahara, Jessops and Bella Lingerie, may have to remain closed until early next week.
Only then when the chimney is down will firefighters be able to start to remove rubble inside, to get to pockets of fire.
Only then will they be able to find out if the fire has spread to the inter-connected cellars of neighbouring shops.
Only then will they be able to sift through to save what is left of the building’s many historic features with a view to reusing some of them if a restoration project comes forward.
Around 20 staff and 100 customers were evacuated from the restaurant after the fire broke out at about 8.50pm.
All were evacuated – among them a hen party who raised concerns that the smoke alarms did not go off straight away.
“It was scary the speed with which it all happened,” said Monique Rainey, 44, from Tuddenham St Mary.
“The staff and firemen were fantastic. It is a real shame.”
Around 80 firefighters from across Suffolk and Norfolk fought the flames.
Sara Bebbington was in nearby Wetherspoons when she heard about the fire
“We looked up The Traverse and saw flames licking the roof and black smoke billowing from the top of the Cupola. It was heartbreaking,” she said.
“It wasn’t long before our worst fears came true – the tower collapsed. One of Bury town’s skyline buildings gone in a flash.”
Seven residents living in flats above neighbouring shops were also evacuated – they have not been allowed to return home.
The rear collapsed into Skinner Street and part of the front also fell into the street.
Safety risks, including blocked fire escapes, led to the closure of more than 40 businesses on Sunday. That greatly reduced as the week went on.
Work was carried out on Monday to remove part of the front of the building which was in danger of collapse.
Pat Dacey, district commander West for Suffolk Fire Service, said that less than 10 per cent of the front had to be removed.
Scaffolding is up to prevent further collapse which has allowed more shops to reopen.
But as rubble was removed from Skinner Street on Tuesday, fears emerged that the only thing holding up a five-storey high chimney was further rubble inside the building and the chimney will now be dismantled.