Video shows fire-ravaged Elephant House cafe as owner praises ‘hero’ cleaner who called 999 and ‘saved lives’ of those sleeping in flats above

The owner of the fire-ravaged Elephant House cafe has praised a “hero” cleaner who dialled 999 when she noticed smoke coming up through the floor early on Tuesday morning - potentially saving the lives of people sleeping in flats above.

David Taylor said it will likely be several months until his business can reopen after it was devastated by the large blaze which broke out within buildings on George IV Bridge, at around 6am yesterday.

Video footage shows the extent of the fire damage inside the cafe, where JK Rowling wrote sections of her Harry Potter books.

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Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News, Mr Taylor said: “It’s looking like a bomb has gone off in there, to be honest. From what I can see there are ceilings that have come down and floors on our level caved in. We are not talking about a few weeks of work here. From what I can see, I would think a few months. It’s devastating.

The Elephant House cafe was among the businesses affected by the fire, which broke out within a building on George IV Bridge. Pic: Matt Donlan

“Our cleaner is the one to thank I think because there are people in the apartments above who would have been fast asleep.

“I think she is the hero here because if it was not for her, there could have been deaths. She was the first person to make the 999 call and the fire service has acknowledged that.

“Everyone was amazing yesterday. The emergency services always do an amazing job, and the fire service has a very difficult job because they found it difficult to get into the buildings because of the floors and ceilings.”

On Wednesday, a fire service spokesperson said firefighters battled through the night to contain the fire and it is thought most of the work today has involved checking the buildings for structural damage. It is likely that fire crews will remain on scene for the rest of the day.

Video footage shows the extent of fire damage inside the Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh's George IV Bridge. Video: David Taylor

It remains unclear exactly how the fire started but Mr Taylor is sure it started below the Elephant House.

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One person - understood to be a firefighter - was taken to hospital as a precaution on Tuesday, while a number of businesses in the street and in Candlemaker Row below have been closed until further notice.

Eye-witnesses also saw smoke billowing out of Patisserie Valerie and The Oz Bar, situated below the patisserie, also suffered water damage. It is understood the nearby Frankenstein pub has also suffered smoke damage.

Mr Taylor, who has worked at the Elephant House for 25 years, said the fire occurred just as trade was starting to look better with the arrival of visitors after months of Covid restrictions.

Tuesday August 24 2021 : A huge fire in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town brought the city centre to a standstill. Dozens of Fire Fighters were in attendance at the popular site on George the IV Bridge.
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He said hundreds of elephant paraphernalia, along with a signed copy of a Harry Potter book, were damaged in the blaze.

About £100,000 was invested in a refurbishment of the Elephant House cafe about three years ago.

Mr Taylor is now in talks with a construction firm which will assess the damage and he says his business is fully insured. He says he will do “everything he can” to keep all 12 of his staff on through this difficult period, as he has done through the pandemic.

Mr Taylor also thanked the many well-wishers from around the world who have sent him supportive messages since Tuesday.

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