Two shop owners blessing their new store ahead of its refurbishment unwittingly caused a shopping centre to be evacuated yesterday.
Hundreds of shoppers and staff working at the Mander Centre in Wolverhampton city centre were escorted out of the precinct at 1pm yesterday following reports of smoke from the old Pizza Hut restaurant in Victoria Street.
It came hours after bosses at the shopping centre had a scheduled test evacuation.
Police sealed off Victoria Street and diverted vehicles away from the scene as fire crews from Fallings Park cleared the building of smoke. Mander Centre officials guarded the doors as bemused shoppers stood in the cold waiting for the all clear.
But fears that the empty shop was on fire were soon dampened when it was discovered alarms were triggered by smoke from ashes set alight by the new owners.
The scene on Victoria Street after the Mander Centre was evacuated
The fire service said it was all part of a ritual carried out by Hare Krishnas to bless the new business.
Watch commander Gurpreet Gill of Blue Watch at Fallings Park Fire Station, said: “ There was a couple of religious people who were Hare Krishnas and they had bought the shop and were blessing it before they started work on it. They were using ashes and smoke from it has set off the fire detectors.
“As they are linked to the Mander Centre it has meant the centre has been evacuated.”
Just two hours earlier at 11am a fire drill was carried out at the Mander Centre as part of safety training.
Mander Centre director Nicolas Pitt said: “We had our scheduled evacuation in the morning.
“Had we known this would happen, we wouldn’t have bothered.”
He added: “It shows the systems we have in place are effective.”