THE PET department of a garden centre has been destroyed by fire killing many of the animals.

The blaze broke out in the Pet Safari unit of Stephen H Smith's in Pool Road, Otley, late 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 perished.

The alarm was raised shortly after 11.15pm and led to fire crews from six stations, Otley, Cookridge, Ilkley, Stanningley, Shipley and Rawdon, being sent to the scene.

About 50 firefighters were involved with some still on site today.

An investigation has started into what caused the blaze.

Richard Coggill, general manager of Stephen H Smith's, today said that he hoped the business would re-open on Thursday.

"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, 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 post by another worker at Pet Safari, which runs as a franchise within the garden centre, added: "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."

A spokesman for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said a fifth of the single storey building was affected by the blaze.

Firefighters used three large jets and two hose reels to bring the fire under control and then focused on dampening down the site.

Support crews from across the county also attended.

Stephen H Smith's thanked the fire service for its help on Twitter.