A senior fire officer has warned that a five-storey Primark building in Belfast that was gutted in a blaze is at risk of collapsing.

The historic building in the city centre was burnt out in a blaze that ripped through the flagship store on Tuesday.

A 45-metre exclusion zone remains in place as fire officers warned the severe structural damage could cause the building to collapse.

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) area commander Aidan Jennings said structural engineers are currently working at the scene to establish the extent of the damage and whether the facade of the 331-year-old building can be saved.

"There is still a risk it could collapse and that's why we have the cordons in place," he said.

"At the facade of the building you can see the structural damage and the collapsed and twisted steel but we can't access that area because of risk of it collapsing."

Mr Jennings said the fire was extreme and has caused major damage and structural collapse on all five floors of the Primark store.

The building was undergoing renovations to add 30,000 sq ft in a multimillion-pound refurbishment.

Firefighters were able to save the extension and prevent the fire from spreading to the new area.

Emergency services will remain in place throughout the day and into the night.

"It's very difficult conditions and the temperature is extreme," Mr Jennings added.

"On a number of occasions we had to withdraw fire crews from the concrete stairs due to the collapses inside the building causing heat.

"This has been very much a team effort, not just with fire crew but all agencies."

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Firefighters are continuing to deal with hot spots and areas of rubble, stock and timber that are burning under the collapsed structures.

Mr Jennings also said that part of their investigation will look at whether there were sprinklers inside the building.

He added that the cause of the fire is not yet known.

A number of Primark staff and union representatives met with management at a hotel on Wednesday to discuss future plans. Belfast city councillors also met with Primark officials.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey was among those who met officials.

Speaking afterwards, the Sinn Féin councillor said it was too early to say whether the facade of the historic building can be saved.

She added: "We also discussed keeping the city centre open for business. We all need to pull together and ensure we secure the site and get people back into work again."

The area that is closed off to the public includes a number of small independent businesses.

"We need to get them back up and running again," Ms Hargey added.

"It's been devastating - I've been speaking with the Primark staff. There's 360 staff and they are like a family so they're really impacted by this. "It's a real sense of loss to them."

Primark staff to be "fully supported"

Primark Chief Executive Paul Marchant has expressed shock and sadness at the fire and moved to reassure the 300-plus workforce, saying he will ensure they are "fully supported".

The building, which has been in the heart of Belfast's shopping district since 1787, had recently undergone a multimillion-pound refurbishment.

Primark customers and staff were evacuated from the building at around 11am on Tuesday after smoke could be seen billowing from the roof.

Flames reaching at least 15 metres could be seen right across Belfast's skyline.

The historic clock at the top of the building was engulfed in flames before the fire spread from the roof to the floors below.

The building had survived bombs and fires throughout its long history in the city.