POLICE say they do not believe the fire which destroyed Yoko restaurant in Coleraine on Friday evening was started deliberately.
Couples out celebrating Valentine’s night had to leave the bistro and noodle bar at the Riverside Regional Centre when the fire broke out at around 6.30pm.
News and pictures of the blaze were first revealed on the Coleraine Times Twitter account and on our website as the drama unfolded.
A number of other shops and restaurants were also evacuated close by.
Six fire appliances and the emergency services attended the scene. No-one is believed to have been injured.
The fire is thought to have started in the restaurant’s kitchen.
Restaurant Manager, Steven Anderson spoke to The Times on Monday.
He said that the restaurant owners were ‘trying to sort things out’, but that it was ‘anxious times’ for the staff.
“Thankfully no one was injured,everyone - staff and customers got out safely.
“The owners are at the restaurant now trying to sort things out.
“The staff and myself are waiting on a call to see when the restaurant will be up and running again.”
Coleraine man, Andy Bate, who had been at a nearby gym with a friend, raised the alarm.
“We came out of the car park and heard an alarm and some commotion.
“We could see the flames leaping over the roof so we just legged it over. The extraction system was on fire at the back of the restaurant.
“I ran in and said to a member of staff: ‘Are you getting these people out of here, the roof is on fire?
“Staff were still taking telephone orders, the restaurant was packed and there were people standing about waiting for their food.
“I don’t think they realised how serious it was that the roof was on fire and could collapse.
“I started shouting at people to get out and once people realised then it only took a few minutes for people to evacuate the building.”
Paul Coyle, from the Fire and Rescue Service, said it took 40 firefighters three hours to bring the blaze under control.
“We had to attack it, both from the ground level using three firefighting jets, and also employ an aerial attack using one of our specialist appliances,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of damage sustained by the Yoko restaurant and that obviously comprised fire damage and water damage as well.
“There was also some smoke damage and fire damage in the adjoining property.”
Syed Amin, owner of the adjoining Indus Valley restaurant, told the BBC: “We were quite busy, we had a lot of bookings tonight.
“One customer popped in and told me there was a fire next door.
“We thought it was just a small, minor fire, but when I went out it was clearly a big fire.
“Then I had to evacuate my customers, I had to tell them we had to leave.
“It happened so quickly and the wind was blowing the smoke into my restaurant.”