England's oldest hotel, which survived bombings during WWII, was destroyed by a massive fire that started early Friday and burned for more than 24 hours, the BBC reports. The Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter opened 247 years ago in 1769. According to the Guardian, its first two floors date back to medieval times. And it's said to have been the first use of the term "hotel"—a French word that came to replace "inn"—in England. "It’s an absolutely beautiful hotel, such a massive loss to the community,” an employee at a nearby pub tells the Independent. The BBC reports there is "an overwhelming sense of sadness in the city."
The fire started above an art gallery in an area that was being renovated. It then spread to a tavern, cafe, and finally the Royal Clarence. Hotel guests had to be evacuated in the middle of the night. "There was a lot of fiery ash falling down," one guest says. "The building was totally in flames." No one was hurt in the fire, but the Royal Clarence was left partially collapsed and completely destroyed. A ruptured gas main fueled the blaze, and as many as 150 firefighters were battling the flames at one point. Firefighters used up water main supplies and had to turn to water from the river to put the fire out. The cause of the fire is unknown, but officials don't suspect arson or anything nefarious. (Read more hotel stories.)