A joint fire service and police investigation is under way after 47 guests and a number of staff fled to safety as flames ripped through a hotel.
The first floor of the Gateway To Wales Hotel in Deeside on the North Wales border was destroyed by the blaze, while 80% of the ground floor was severely damaged, said fire chiefs.
Emergency services were called at about 4.30am on Monday and seven fire engines and four ambulances rushed to the scene in Welsh Road.
Most of the guests had already managed to escape before crews from North Wales Fire and Rescue Service arrived.
Two aerial ladder platforms and a high volume pumping unit were used to help douse the roof space of the building. Two roofs surrounding the reception entrance were partially collapsed.
Stacey Roberts, 26, was staying in the hotel with her six-month-old son and partner when they were jolted awake by the fire alarm.
She said: “The alarm stopped and then started again. No member of staff was seen, no sprinklers went off – if it wasn’t for a gentleman shouting through the corridors ‘Fire, fire’ … I dread to think. We’re all traumatised.
“We’re homeless and that’s where Flintshire County Council placed us. We booked in on Saturday night, so now we’re sitting with friends and family until the council office opens. The Gateway To Wales was our home. It’s just awful.”
Residents at a nearby new-build block of flats were also evacuated as police banged on their doors at about 5am.
Danny Lawton, who lives in the flats with his girlfriend and baby, told the Press Association: “We grabbed the baby and her stuff and headed downstairs, and the car park was already full of people. The heat coming off the fire was immense.
“The whole roof and top floor was on fire and the surrounding area was just full of smoke and flashing blue lights. There was a dozen or more fire trucks and police cars.”
The 24-year-old machine operator added: “I was told to move my car as quick as I could as the heat would melt it – that’s how close it was.
“As far as I’m aware the fire has been put out and the building has burnt down to just a shell.”
Those evacuated from the hotel and the flats are being looked after at a local rest centre.
Structural engineers are expected to assess the safety of the building while fire investigators wait for the site to be made safe before they enter.
Stuart Millington, senior operations manager at the fire service, said: “Crews attended very quickly and in numbers as the fire was very well developed by the time we arrived.
“At the height of the fire there was approximately 60 people (firefighters) on the scene.
“Crews worked very hard to bring the fire under control and to all intents and purposes it is out and just being dampened down now.
“Our fire investigators are speaking to local residents and to people in the building. The building is quite badly damaged and therefore their abilitiy to get in and take their investigation safely will take some time.”
He added: “The early operation of the fire alarm system is what gave the early warning to allow people to make their escape … so that’s clearly testament to the value of a properly functioning smoke alarm and fire alarm system.”