THE PET department of an Otley garden centre has been destroyed by fire.

The blaze broke out in the Pet Safari unit of Stephen H Smith's, on Pool Road, on Tuesday night.

Most of the animals, which included reptiles and amphibians, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, gerbils and insects and spiders, are believed to have died.

The alarm had been raised just after 11.15pm when fire engines from six stations, Otley, Cookridge, Ilkley, Stanningley, Shipley and Rawdon, were called into action.

About 50 firefighters were involved in total with some still on site on Wednesday, when a fire investigator was due to attend to try to identify the cause.

General Manager of Stephen H Smith's Richard Coggill, speaking while overseeing a major repair operation, said: "We hope that we will be open for business again on Thursday - but that's just the garden centre itself.

"The pet department, unfortunately, suffered very severe damage.

"This has been a tragic occurrence and catastrophic for the owners, they are devastated."

Posting on the Otley - Our Town Facebook page on Wednesday, staff member Bronte Hogarth said: "I'm absolutely devastated, can't put into words how much those animals meant to every member of staff."

A website post from Pet Safari, which runs as a franchise within the garden centre, said: "I woke this morning to the devastating news that Pet Safari had a fire last night and will be closed till further notice.

"We are all devastated.

"We managed to save a few animals but many were lost."

West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue said a fifth of the single storey building had been affected by the blaze.

Firefighters used four breathing apparatus, three large jets and two hose reels to bring the flames under control and then focused on dampening down the site.

Support crews from across the brigade also attended.

Stephen H Smith's thanked the fire service for its help online, posting on Twitter: "Thank you to @WYFRS for their quick response to last night's incident."