London, Feb.10: A major fire broke out late Saturday at London's famous Camden market, ripping through one of the city's top tourist draws and a nearby celebrity hangout, fire officials and witnesses said.
Prominent British dailies reported that over a 100 firefighters and 20 fire engines were called in to douse out the raging flames. The reports quoted fire fighting officials as saying that the blaze was being brought under control after more than three hours of battling it. There were no immediate reports of any casualties, but reports said some people were trapped.
Local television channels showed firefighters shooting water into the upper stories of the Hawley Arms, once popular with Hell's Angels but more recently associated with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty, Kate Moss and Kelly Osbourne.
Late on Saturday, hundreds of people poured out into the streets, taking pictures of the inferno as police tried to cordon off the area to prevent anyone from coming to harm.
Bystanders said they had never seen a fire of such magnitude spread so fast, licking up most buildings in the vicinity. Police said it was too early to comment on the possible cause of the blaze.
The culturally vibrant Camden area has six open-air and indoor markets hawking everything from handmade soaps to second hand clothing. Originally established as a craft market in 1974, it is now the center of London's alternative fashion scene, and its clubs and bars are popular with rockers and music makers.
The maze-like markets are packed tightly on weekends when hordes of tourists descend on Camden to snap up T-shirts and jewelry.
Some traders have been protesting the local authority's plan to redevelop the Stables Market, one of Camden's biggest, into two new four-story commercial structures.
Reports quoted firefighters as saying that the fire was centered around the Camden Canal Market, where a number of stalls had been consumed. The extent of the damage was unclear.
The area of inner-north London is noted on the international map as a trendy destination for Londoners and tourists alike, and enormously busy at the weekend. Over the years it has become a magnet for the showbiz community — not just pop stars, but artists, designers, film makers, television and music industry figures of all kinds.
They are attracted by the various markets, the huge array of bars and restaurants, which spreads towards Hampstead to the north and Regents Park to the south west. The area has become known as a center for alternative lifestyles and is popular with students, including those from overseas.
It also encourages people from alternative subcultures including goths and punks. Cultural venues include the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm Road, which hosts major music and theater events; Koko, formerly the Camden Palace, near Mornington Crescent station; the Dublin Castle and the Electric Ballroom, cherished places for live music; and the Good Mixer, a famous pub used by musicians in Inverness Street, including, at the height of Britpop, members of Blur and Oasis.
Police have closed off several roads. The Hawley Arms pub, near the source of the fire, suffered severe damage, the BBC reported. The Telegraph said police closed much of Camden High Street, Chalk Farm Road and other linking roads, and added that officers with loudspeakers had told drinkers at the area's many pubs and bars to make their way to Camden Town Tube station. Residents have also been evacuated from some houses and flats.
Firefighters were alerted about the fire at about 7.20 p.m. (12.55 a.m. IST Sunday). London Ambulance Service said it has ambulances and a hazardous response team are at the scene. The market attracts up to 300,000 visitors each weekend.