CUSTOMERS and staff at a number of shops were evacuated after a major fire broke out at a Chester McDonalds restaurant, bringing the city centre to a halt.

Plumes of smoke billowed from the back of the building in Foregate Street at around 12.30pm on Monday (October 6) and could be seen across the city.

Five fire engines were called to the scene and a roof and aerial appliance was used to tackle the blaze.

The restaurant and Woolworths, HMV and Boots shops were evacuated and the lower half of the street cordoned off.

Police officers held back the crowds while fire crews entered the building using breathing apparatus.

A woman who was in McDonalds as the fire started said: “We saw the smoke coming through the vents inside. Somebody shouted “fire”, and we were all told to leave. When we saw the smoke we ran out. It was pretty scary.

“Everybody was running about, we didn’t know what to do. Everyone was just telling us to leave.”

A Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “The fire was in the roof of the building.

“After extinguishing the blaze, the fire crews cut away the ducting in the roof to look for any fire spread or smouldering. The cause of the fire is as yet unknown.”

Police spokesperson Rachel Hayes said: “Police officers were used to monitor the road situation and prevent people going down towards the McDonalds restaurant. Frodsham Street was closed and all vehicles turned back at the Tesco entrance.

“The police plane was also used. It carries a thermal imaging camera and looked for heat spots.”

At around 1.19pm, staff in the neighbouring shops were allowed back into work and at 1.40pm, the Boots shop opposite was reopened. At 2.30pm, Foregate Street was fully reopened.

The fire caused chaos for bus users who would usually go to the bus stops on Foregate Street. Passengers were re-directed to Gorse Stacks for the Wrexham buses while others were sent to the bus exchange behind the Town Hall.