A FISH and chip shop will be closed until November after a fire ripped through the building.

Howard’s Fish and Grill, in High Road, Benfleet, suffered a devastating blaze on Sunday morning, which has left nearly all of the inside destroyed by smoke damage.

The fire is believed to be accidental, but owner Gary Howard said the business is still awaiting reports from forensic teams who were investigating at the shop yesterday.

The shop has been trading for about three-and-a-half years, and this is the first time an incident has occurred there.

Mr Howard, 38, said: “There was a member of staff in there at the time, he was working in the kitchen and went out to the back to fetch something and came back to find the fire had gone up in the kitchen.

“He was absolutely fine, he managed to turn everything off and ensure no one was in the building before he left.

“There was no structural damage, but the worst came from the smoke, it went through the entire building, even into rooms where the doors were completely closed.

“I wasn’t there at the time but there were around two to three fire engines to put it out.”

The shop has been forced to close completely while Mr Howard orders new equipment to refit the kitchen before it can continue trading.

However, Mr Howard plans to open again before the end of the year.

Mr Howard added: “I’m just thankful that no one was hurt because of it. It could have been much, much worse, and we’ve been lucky to escape without any structural damage.

“We do plan to have a grand re-opening ceremony when we get back on our feet.

“I’m due to be placing an order soon for new kitchen equipment, and we can hopefully be open again at the beginning of November.

“We thank all of our customers for their support and understanding during this time.”

Essex Fire Service also evacuated flats surrounding the store and left five people in the care of the ambulance service.

No one is thought to have been seriously injured in the fire.