Staff at a Horsham town centre fish and chip shop have been praised for quickly evacuating the building following a fire on Good Friday (April 3).
A parade of Ferraris visited the town centre on the first day of Piazza Italia but some had to be moved to safety after the chip fryer blaze in Deep Blue fish and chip shop in Colletts Alley, between the Carfax and Middle Street.
It is believed no one was hurt in the fire, which broke out just after 1.30pm.
Kate Blakeley said she was the last person to be served before the fire started.
She explained that she will be ‘forever grateful’ to the staff for their reaction to the incident.
She said: “The staff were absolutely amazing at getting everyone out of the premises in an exceptionally quick time.
“I feel so upset for the staff who had put in such a lot of effort preparing for this special weekend and sincerely hope that things get back to normal for them all as soon as possible.
“I will be forever grateful for their prompt action and professionalism.”
Another customer, Mandy Bradley, explained that she left the restaurant minutes before the events unfolded.
She said: “Four of us had just finished our excellent fish and chip lunch, and left the cafe at around 1.25pm.
“It is very sad for the shop. I hope they are back up and running very soon.”
Piazza Italia event manager Garry Mortimer-Cook thanked his team of volunteers, who set up a cordon while emergency services worked at the scene, for their quick response.
He added none of the cars had been damaged by flames or smoke, and the first day of the popular Italian festival was a success despite the blaze.
He said: “Our first thing was to ensure public safety and then to assess the implications of the incident on the event, and we managed according to that.
“It happened in an area where we could manage it - if it had happened somewhere else we might not have been able to keep the event running.
“We have managed to keep the event running and I don’t think anything has been lost. I am delighted with our response and I would like to pay tribute to my team.”
Firefighters successfully extinguished the flames and ensured minimum disruption to the event.
However, protest group West Sussex Fire and Rescue Stop the Cuts have insisted the incident highlights recent cuts to the fire service made by West Sussex County Council.
The restructuring of the fire service came into effect just two days earlier, on Wednesday April 1.
A spokesperson for the group said: “Just days after a senior fire officer claimed ‘the service will not be downgraded in any way’, a serious fire in the centre of Horsham showed this was untrue.
“Instead of two fire engines arriving quickly from Horsham, there was only one. The vital second fire engine had to be sent from Crawley and took much longer to arrive.”
All the events scheduled over the Piazza Italia weekend went ahead as planned, despite the incident.
Colletts Alley remained closed when the County Times went to press on Wednesday (April 8).
An open air Good Friday service went ahead as planned in the Carfax on Friday. More details of the event can be found on page 40.
The County Times would like to thank all readers who contributed photographs of the Piazza Italia weekend, including pictures of the fire.