The burnt out remains of a copy of the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book lies in a doorway where fire started early today, destroying a three-storey building.
Neighbours say they believe the fire was started deliberately at the front of an alleyway between businesses. While everything else was blackened and destroyed, the cover of the book was the only thing visible with the picture of the Greek mythological bird which rises from the ashes.
The former hairdressing shop in Abbey Road, Torquay and two floors above were gutted in the blaze which started in front of a locked passage between shops. The building was already well alight when members of the public raised the alarm and four fire engines arrived.
The International Barber where the fire started is next to Torquay’s top-rated restaurant, Small World,and the owners are examining the extent of smoke damage today.
Alex Chelaru who lives above Small World said he and two flatmates were evacuated by police in the night: “There were big flames,” he said.
“There was smoke everywhere when we woke up. The police took us outside until they could make sure our building was safe, for a couple of hours. We haven’t had much sleep.
“We heard that someone started the fire – there is lots of CCTV around and the police are looking at it.”
Four fire crews were sent to the building in Abbey Road, Torquay, at just after 1.30am today.
Fire Control received several calls reporting a fire in a shop and two fire engines and an Aerial Ladder Platform from Torquay, as well as a fire engine from Paignton were sent.
On arrival crews found the shop was well alight, with fire spreading to two flats above on the second and third floors.
Crews extinguished the fire using four Breathing Apparatus, two hose reel jets and a safety jet.
The building which has been gutted was the International Barbers shop – known for many years as Barnet Fayre – but it has been boarded up for several years after the owner of the building died.
It also destroyed a new Kia Niro car belonging to businessmen Stuart Gibbons and Danny Burridge, who live nearby and had parked in the road overnight. The rear end nearest the blaze melted in the heat.
As they emptied the boot of their car before it was towed away, they pointed out the Harry Potter book in the wreckage.
Stuart said: “It’s ironic that the remains of Harry Potter and the Phoenix book is all that’s left.”
In Greek mythology a phoenix is a bird which rises from the ashes and is born again.
Danny said: “The main thing is that nobody was hurt – there is no point in getting upset about the car. It was quite new and will cost about £29,000 to replace. I think it’s the only car that has been damaged.”
At barber shop The Groom Room next to the fire owner Mark Gaughan said he was lucky that his business was unaffected today.
He said the gutted building has been in probate for several years since the death of its elderly owner.
“It looks like somebody started a fire in the doorway. There was a lane behind down to the back entry,” Mr Gaughan said. “Hopefully something will get done there now and we won’t have a boarded up shop next to us.”
Police at the scene confirmed that they will be looking at CCTV today and working with fire investigators to establish the cause.