The leading firefighter at Braemar Lodge Hotel in Braemar said a fridge in a bunkhouse behind the main building may have been the source of the fire – but the devastation was so great that it may never be known for sure.
Group Commander Ewan Baird said it was likely that a small electrical fire spread from the bunkhouse, which had not been occupied for two weeks, to a nearby LPG tank, causing it to explode.
Mr Baird said: “There were two fridges in the bunkhouse and I think that is likely the cause of it, but the reality is that it will go down as undetermined, as there is nothing left.”
He said it was a “miracle” no-one was hurt, with seven guests, two members of staff and the owner safely evacuated before the explosion, with 70 per cent of the hotel destroyed.
Two of the guests were staying in the main hotel building, with the others sleeping in lodges in the grounds at the time the fire broke out.
Mr Baird said the owner of the hotel, who was staying on site, was “absolutely devastated” over the fire.
“He was clearly upset. He told me he he had invested a considerable amount of money in the hotel and that he had been getting ready for the season after Covid. But his priority was his guests rather than anything else which underlines the type of person he is. He was extremely helpful, both to us and the police,” he added.
Mr Baird said one challenge was getting enough water to fight the fire, with crews placing pumps in a nearby river to secure supply.
"We were probably sucking Braemar dry,” he added.
Around 50 firefighters attended the scene with a numbers of crews remaining in Braemar overnight on Wednesday to deal with any flare ups, protect the site and reassure the local community. Crews left the scene around 7am this morning (Thursday).
Mr Baird added: “You really think about the loss to the community, the effect it will have on local businesses, on staff, on jobs.”
Councillor Geva Blackett, an independent member of Aberdeenshire Council, lives two doors up from the hotel and earlier described the moment the explosion ripped through the premises.
She said: “My husband got me out of the house and by the time I got outside, it was just unbelievable, extraordinary. The whole place just went ‘whoosh’.
"There was just smoke and flames everywhere. I walked down the alley way by the house and then the hotel just exploded.
“There were bits of granite flying. I was standing around 200 yards away. It was unreal, unbelievable – the whole hotel has gone.
In a statement released on Thursday morning, a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “We were alerted at 7:37am on Wednesday, March 16 to reports of a shed on fire at Glenshee Road, Braemar, Ballater.
“Operations Control mobilised six fire appliances, one height vehicle, one water carrier and specialist resources and around 50 firefighters extinguished a fire affecting a nearby commercial building.
“There were no reported casualties and crews left the scene after ensuring the area was made safe.”