The remains of a historic building in the heart of the Highland capital were still smouldering yesterday after a huge blaze which destroyed two shops.
Firefighters were still damping-down flare-ups in the aftermath of the inferno which engulfed a beauty salon and clothes shop in the city’s Academy Street.
As an investigation into the cause of the blaze was launched, motorists faced traffic chaos as the area around the building remained cordoned-off and nearby streets were shut.
Queensgate, Strothers Lane and Academy Street itself will remain closed to traffic and pedestrians until next week because of concerns about the stability of the damaged building.
The fire is thought to have started in RD’s Health and Beauty Salon and then spread to the M&Co’s clothing store below.
Senior firefighters said tackling one of the biggest blazes in the Highlands for years was “arduous” and “challenging”.
Specialist investigators arrived at the site yesterday to work alongside the police to try to determine what caused the blaze.
An initial survey of the building found that scaffolding was needed to make it safe.
Academy Street is likely be closed until Monday at the earliest.
Firefighters managed to save the historic building from being totally destroyed and prevent the flames from spreading into neighbouring properties, but a number of businesses caught in the wide police cordon remained closed throughout yesterday.
Mairi Campbell, shop manager at M&Co, watched the inferno destroy the store where she has worked for the past 12 years.
She said: “I was here until about 3am but it was obvious there was nothing any of us could do.
“It sounds a bit silly but I was concerned about leaving the doors open when I eventually went home.
“It’s a big part of our lives for everyone who works there. It was emotional watching the fire, without a doubt.”
She added: “The shop’s been there for about 30 years so it’s a big loss for the city centre. We are trying to find somewhere else to relocate to in the short term and take it from there.”
A spokeswoman for the M&Co chain said the company was “saddened” by the fire.
Its property director visited the site to assess the situation and to consider possibilities for relocation.
Staff will be moved to work at the company’s other Highland shops in Nairn and Dingwall.
Dorie O’Hara-Pringle, owner of RD’s beauty salon, said she was too upset to talk about the fire yesterday, other than to say she was “very shaken” by the experience.
City centre councillor Richard Laird said: “It’s a fairly shocking and upsetting development for Inverness.
“The only light to come out of it is that no one was hurt. There were a few livelihoods damaged last night and I am just glad that no lives were lost as well.
“It’s a tragedy to see one of our oldest buildings involved and I hope as much of it can be salvaged as possible.
“It’s the building which gave Academy Street its name and there’s a lot of history has gone up in smoke last night.”
The building dates back to 1792 when it was Inverness Royal Academy.
It has been used over the years as a bakers, a bookmakers and latterly as the clothes shop.
The fire started late on Wednesday night.