More than 50 firefighters battled a ferocious blaze which completely destroyed two shops in the centre of Aberdeen.
An interior design store was reduced to a charred shell and a neighbouring dry cleaning premises was ruined by thick, black smoke.
People living in flats above the properties fled as the inferno raged.
Eyewitnesses described seeing the owner of Rosemount Drycleaners trying desperately to extinguish the fire, which started in a back room of adjoining The Design House.
The man ran inside the burning store several times despite cries from bystander pleading with him to stay outside.
One resident who fled from a flat above the shops said the smoke was so acrid it “could have killed”.
Firefighters remained at the scene for several hours yesterday to ensure the building was safe amid fears flames were still burning behind the traditional plaster walls.
Police confirmed that no one had been seriously hurt, however the owner of the dry cleaning firm was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene by paramedics.
Police taped-off Rosemount Place from Watson Street to Wallfield Crescent as seven fire crews battled for almost two hours to stop the flames spreading.
Firefighters from North Anderson Drive, Central Fire Station, Altens, Banchory and Dyce used breathing apparatus to enter the building, as black smoke billowed from the entrances of the shops and from the windows above.
Fire brigade group manager, Ally Birkett, confirmed that both shops suffered extensive structural damage.
The Design House was destroyed by the fire, while the dry cleaner suffered extensive smoke damage. The stairwell leading to the properties upstairs was also ruined.
“It was a very severe and very intense fire,” said Mr Birkett.
“The crews were immediately dispatched into the shops and the flats above to assess the extent of he fire and, most importantly, make sure that there was no one trapped.
“Luckily, when we searched the flats, there was nobody that needed to be rescued.
“The crews worked really, really hard to aggressively attack the fire and to stop it spreading.”
George McNutt, who lives in a flat above the shops, had been sleeping when he was woken by the smell of smoke.
He said: “The smoke was all up the stairwell. It was so acrid I knew it was bad – it was enough to kill you.
“Thankfully, most of the flats were empty and thankfully I woke up when I did. I got out just in time.”
Karen Wooton, owner of The Design House, watched from the street outside as firefighters battled to save her shop.
She said her neighbour risked his life to extinguish the fire.
“We could hear him spraying the extinguisher at the back of my shop,” she said.
“He kept on running back into the shop with more extinguishers, but the smoke was too black.
“We told him to stop, but he only did when the fire engines arrived.”
Inspector Darren Bruce, the officer in charge of controlling the scene, said it was too early to tell what had caused the blaze, but that inquiries were ongoing.
“We don’t know how it started yet,” he said.
“The incident will be subject to a joint investigation between Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.”
Mr Birkett also praised his crews for what they did to bring the fire under control.
“Our men worked very, very hard,” he said.
“I would like to praise the professionalism and hard work of our firefighters who minimised the damage caused by the fire.”
The fire broke out around 2pm yesterday.