After a long night battling a blaze that has severely damaged a number of shops on Bong Bong Street in Bowral, firefighters will today be checking the structural integrity of the premises before police begin an investigation into the cause.
The affected sections of Bong Bong Street and Wingecarribee Street remain blocked off today to both pedestrians and traffic.
About 12 shops in all are estimated to be damaged by either fire, heat or smoke.
Affected businesses include the ANZ Bank, The Grand Indian restaurant, Dos Hombres Mexican restaurant, BarberLife, IL Topolino Alimentari/Delicatessen, Billy Chan the Dumpling Man, First National Real Estate and It's All Books To Me.
Firefighters were called to the Highlands Arcade set of shops at about 9pm last night to find the inside corner of the strip well alight.
"Attempts were made to extinguish the fire, which took a large amount of time overnight, and as of this morning still spot fires were occurring," Chief Inspector Brendan Bernie of the Hume Police District said.
"At the present time, investigators from the NSW Police are working with Fire and Rescue investigators to establish the cause of the fire."
He said it was too early to point at a cause, and added that business owners were "obviously shattered".
"It's very distressing, and we'll be doing our best to support them any way we can," he said.
"It's the biggest fire I've been involved in since working down here, and it's very sad."
Hear the full statement from Chief Inspector Brendan Bernie here:
NSW Fire and Rescue duty commander Dean Campbell called it a "very intense fire" that had reached the roof by the time trucks arrived at 9.30pm.
"It had already spread and the damage was already done," he said.
Crucial to the success of the firefighters was an aerial truck that came down from Sydney to join the local trucks.
"It pumps around 5000 litres a minute, so we were able to put that above the fire," Mr Campbell said.
"Luckily some of the tin had burned away from the roof so we were able to access the fire, and we sent crews into the building to try to pull down the roof and ceiling tiles and we could attack the fire from underneath, and put a definite cut off spot so it didn't continue along consuming the whole block."
He urged everyone to check their smoke alarms.
"We know it's cold and everyone's got their heaters on - make sure you keep everything a metre from the heater - and smoke alarms save lives every day of the week," he said.
Listen to the full message from NSW Fire and Rescue duty commander Dean Campbell:
Feeling a mixture of relief and sadness this morning were the business owners whose premises came through unscathed.
Richard and Nicky Alekna, who own pop culture store The Sell Block, raced into town and watched as the fire came right up to the side wall of their store.
"We saw the parapet out the back of the shop burning and then they hit it with the water cannon and put it out," said Mr Alekna.
They said they were "devastated" on behalf of their neighbours.
"The business community here is tight-knit," said Richard.
"Our heart goes out to all of them."
Steve Warren, who, along with his wife Tracey, owns Cabra Print in a building that backs onto the damaged shops, also raced into town.
"We picked up all our back-up drives," he said, explaining that the shop houses designs going back to 1996.
"The firies, police and amos were just wonderful.
"We feel relieved but very sad for the others."
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