police are treating as arson a blaze that took hold in the main warehouse of major online retailer Asos as 500 people worked inside.
Officers say early examinations at the scene suggest the fire was started deliberately and a criminal investigation has now been launched.
South Yorkshire Police said the fire, which broke out at the distribution centre near Grimethorpe in Barnsley at around 10pm on Friday, left the building badly damaged.
The 500 workers were safely evacuated from the premises and nobody was injured.
A police spokesman said: “South Yorkshire Police are now treating the incident as deliberate, after initial investigations.”
At its height, the fire was tackled by ten appliances and more than 60 firefighters. Flames spread over four floors of the five-storey warehouse, which covers an area of more than 60,000 square metres.
“The blaze was contained in the area of origin,” said investigating fire officer Simon Rodgers, of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue (SYFR). “Asos staff had a good evacuation process, which assisted the emergency services and allowed the fire to be brought under control more quickly.”
The blaze is thought to have broken out on the second floor of the building, before spreading to the third and fourth floors.
SYFR’s Andy Hayter said crews worked hard to bring the blaze under control, and without their early intervention the building would have been destroyed.
Asos is one of the UK’s largest online-only fashion and beauty retailers. It was forced to suspend trading as a result of the blaze and posted the following message on its shopping portal: “We have pressed pause on the Asos website, this is due to a fire in our Barnsley distribution centre in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“Thankfully no one was hurt and we expect to be back to normal for you in the next day or so.”
The site sells more than 850 brands as well as its own range of clothing and accessories, and it is believed that up to 10 million boxes of clothing could have been damaged in the fire.
As news of the fire spread, many consumers reacted on social media. Tom Grattan @tomgrattan said: “Praying no blazers, waistcoats or people have been hurt in the @ASOS warehouse fire.”
Jon Shrimpton @jonshr93 wrote: “I don’t know what to do with my life at the moment…it’s come to a standstill. Asos is down!”
Asos said: “In order not to disappoint our customers we have temporality stopped taking orders.”
This is not the first time Asos has suffered damage to its distribution facilities.
An explosion and fire at the Buncefield oil depot near Hemel Hempstead caused damage at its original warehouse in 2005.