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Press hall fire fails to halt publication

A major fire forced the Belfast Telegraph to launch contingency plans when the press hall was knocked out of action before yesterday’s paper could be published.

A spark from welding work is suspected to have caused the blaze, which was confined to the press and put two presses out of action. There were no injuries and the fire was put out by the Royal Avenue HQ’s sprinkler system.

It was the most serious disruption the paper has experienced since a bomb attack in 1976, and before that the Blitz of the Second World War.

Editor Ed Curran promised to publish as normal – as the editorial systems were intact despite smoke working its way through ducting into different areas of the building.

Staff were allowed into the building in the immediate aftermath to assess the damage and then senior executives had to work out the size of the paper that could be published at alternative presses at short notice.

Other newspapers were quick to offer practical and moral support and both publication of the Telegraph – and contract printing of national titles – went ahead elsewhere.

The paper was printed at two plants – Morton Newspapers, at Craigavon, County Armagh, which owns a string of weeklies in Ulster – and the Bangor Spectator in County Down, another weekly business.

Yesterday and today the paper was a 32-page broadsheet, with the the print run restricted to one edition rather than the normal four.

Managing director Derek Carvell said: “We fully intend to be back to normal as soon as possible.”

Editor Ed Curran said: “The fire was confined to the press hall, where a spark set papers ablaze, and thankfully the sprinkler system, plus the prompt action of the fire service, meant that the editorial and advertising departments were unaffected.

“Reporters and photographers are working normally, but obviously the transfer of printing to other premises will involve some delays.

“Alternative printing presses have been made available and we are striving to ensure that normal publication will be resumed as soon as possible. We believe that one press may be repairable within a week.

“Our intention is that readers, advertisers and newsagents will continue to receive the service which they have to expect from Northern Ireland’s most popular newspaper.”

The Telegraph, established in 1870, has 556 employees and a circulation of around 113,000.

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