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The BBC's Tracey Titterington
"What is left of the main building will have to be pulled down"
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BBC NI's Martin Anderson:
Local councillors have said the fire was a disaster for tourism
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Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
Investigation into Causeway blaze
Over 400,000 people visit the causeway every year
Over 400,000 people visit the causeway every year
Fire investigators are trying to establish the cause of a blaze which destroyed most of the visitor centre at Northern Ireland's biggest tourist attraction.

The Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast is still accessible but the area around the remains of the tourist complex has been cordoned off by the police.

Divisional Fire Officer David Blair
David Blair: All possible causes being investigated
Divisional Fire Officer David Blair said: "Malicious ignition cannot be ruled out but I would stress that we are not looking at that as a cause at this moment in time.

"The fire may well have been accidental. There are a number of causes that we must rule out first."

Coachloads of tourists were turned away from the Causeway on Sunday while the police investigated the scene.

Gary Hewitt of the National Trust, which oversees the site said that the public could now get access to the causeway but that all the facilities had been lost.

"It's probably not the best time to visit the causeway, but the stones themselves do remain open," he said.

However, Moyle District Council has said they will get a temporary information centre open on the site as soon as possible until the Causeway Centre cane be rebuilt.

The unique sprawl of hexagonal basalt columns that make up the Giant's Causeway, was formed when lava broke through the earth's crust 60 million years ago and cooled as it hit the sea.

It was named after the Irish legend that it was built by Ulster warrior giant Finn McCool so he could walk to Scotland to fight a Scottish giant.

The World Heritage site attracts nearly half a million visitors a year.

'Important service'

Local political representatives who expect the numbers to increase this year to up to 700,000 said the fire was a major setback.

Coachloads of visitors were turned away while police examined scene
Coachloads of visitors were turned away while police examined scene
Social Democratic and labour Party assembly member Sean Farren said: "This centre provides a very important service and it will have to be replaced as soon as possible.

"It is a very important part of the infrastructure for the whole area."

The centre, an award-winning wooden construction, was opened in 1986, housing interpretative exhibitions, a shops, café and toilets.

Firefighters found that 80% of the building had been destroyed when they arrived on the scene after the fire was reported at about 0130 BST.

They said the centre was engulfed within three minutes of their arrival as the sea breeze fanned the flames.

New facilities destroyed

Six fire appliances from neighbouring districts were called to the scene and the fire crews managed to save a neighbouring hotel as well as the centre's shop and cafe area, which were however, smoke damaged.

Burnt shell of Causeway Centre
Moyle counicl had spent spent thousands on the centre
The tourist information office, post office, a souvenir shop as well as two recent additions: an interpretative exhibition and audio-visual display were destroyed.

Mr Hewitt said the trust would discuss how to restore tourist facilities to the area with its partners in Moyle District Council.

"The Giant's Causeway's position as Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction mean that we do need facilities here for the hundreds of thousands of people that visit here," he said.

Moyle councillor Christopher McCaughan said the timing of the fire could not have been worse.

"It is a disaster for tourism, not only on the North Antrim coast but in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland generally.

"The Giant's Causeway was the leading attraction we had here in Northern Ireland and had over 400,000 people, a bumper year, last year.

"We had just spent thousand of pounds improving the whole site and were looking forward to a bumper summer when we would have maybe 600,000 to 700,000 people," he said.

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