The owner of a Moray bar who watched it being reduced to a ruin by fire is refusing to give up hope it can rise again from the ashes.
Flames ripped through the Beach Bar and a neighbouring home in Lossiemouth at the weekend – reducing the buildings to empty shells.
Fire crews battled the blaze for several hours on Saturday as they attempted to save the historic structure, which began life as the town’s public baths in 1875, from being reduced to cinders.
Last night, the fire service explained it was too soon to establish what started the blaze. An investigation is expected to begin in the coming days.
Yesterday restaurant owner Graham Fleming returned to the seaside businesses that has been his livelihood for 30 years for the first time after he could not bear to watch the premises being destroyed.
Meanwhile, Liz Wood, who lived in the adjoining house, is expected to return from a holiday in Egypt today after the flames devastated the family home.
Her 20-year-old son Luke was the only person inside the building at the time and escaped wearing his pyjamas after a neighbour raised the alarm. Mrs Wood’s other son Owen, 13, was staying with family at the time.
Mr Fleming arrived at the scene at about 6.15am and initially believed the fire would cause only minor damage to the bar, which employed 25 people.
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The businessman was planning a £30,000 upgrade to the premises in January in order to prepare the restaurant, which is popular with locals, RAF Lossiemouth personnel and visiting forces, for an uptake in trade with the looming expansion of the military base.
He said: “I could see something smouldering on the porch but when I walked round I couldn’t see anything burning inside. I thought we’d lose the front, which would have been alright.
“As soon as that wind picked up though it went right through the roof. I couldn’t stay, I didn’t want to watch my business being burnt to the ground.”
He added: “It’s all out of my hands now while the police and fire do their investigation, then the insurers will take over.
“I don’t want to give up hope on it coming back. It would be good to salvage what’s left of it.”
Mrs Wood’s sister, Vicky Ingram, explained the family would be “eternally grateful” to the neighbour who woke Luke to alert him to the emergency.
She said: “He was only able to get his shoes on and grab his phone and college work as he left. All he’s got is the pyjamas he was wearing. The family has lost everything.
“We’re all just glad that Luke got out of the house alright, which is all down to the people who ran to help.”
A fire service spokeswoman said: “We were alerted to a building fire in Lossiemouth at 6.03am on Saturday.
“A number of resources were mobilised at the scene at Commerce Road where a fire had taken hold within a business premises.
“Due to the strong wind the fire had also began to spread to a nearby area of gorse. There are no casualties.”
A huge outpouring of community support has followed the fire in Lossiemouth at the weekend.
Nearly £4,000 had been donated through two online fundraising pages to support Liz Wood’s family less than 24 hours after the emergency.
Meanwhile, collection buckets were set up in the town’s two Co-op stores to allow more cash to be donated to support the mother who lived next door with her two children.
Last night, Mrs’s Wood’s sister Vicky Ingram described the backing of town residents as “humbling”.
She said: “It’s amazing to see all the messages saying they’re thinking of Liz and the boys. It restores your faith in humanity.
“It’s not just the money though. They’ve lost everything so people are offering clothes, make-up, I even had somebody drop off a computer games console.
“Everyone’s still in shock really but we’ve been overwhelmed by it all.”
It is understood that locals are already planning fundraising events to rally more support for the family.
Last night, Mike Mulholland, chairman of Lossiemouth Community Council, explained the response was “tremendous”.
He said: “The Beach Bar is very popular and had become a lot more popular in recent years.
“It’s amazing to know that people will support those in need – but that’s the kind of place that Lossiemouth is. People aren’t afraid to put their hands in their pockets.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead praised the emergency services for their response to the fire.
He added: “It is heart-breaking for the owners of the Beach Bar and their staff and for the family who lived in the attached house.
“All our thoughts are with them as they come to terms with what was clearly a major fire that has turned so many people’s lives upside down.”