Andrew Brownsword said that he and his family witnessed the collapse of the Royal Clarence hotel in Exeter with "great sadness" as a devastating fire destroyed what is believed to be England's oldest hotel.
The blaze broke out at around 5am yesterday morning in an art gallery next to the hotel. All guests and staff were evacuated before the fire took hold and spread into the hotel and adjoining buildings. Early this morning, the front façade of the Grade II listed building, which was built in 1769 as Assembly Rooms collapsed.
Andrew Brownsword, who bought the 53-bedroom hotel in 2003 for £4.5m and transformed it to the four-AA-star Abode Exeter, said: "The Royal Clarence Hotel has long been a special place for my family and I and it is with great sadness that we witnessed events as they unfolded.
"We would like to thank all of our team who have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety and well being of our guests along with the outstanding efforts of the emergency services. Our thoughts are with all those affected in Exeter and in due course we will look to the future of the Royal Clarence Hotel."
A spokesperson for Andrew Brownsword Hotels added: "The support offered by the Mercure hotel, Exeter City Council and colleagues in Exeter at this difficult time has been overwhelming, and we thank everyone involved for their outstanding efforts and generosity. We cannot thank enough the incredible team of staff from the hotel who continue to manage the situation with enormous positivity and professionalism"
According to the Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, the blaze was able to spread swiftly through the Grade II timber frame building via many concealed voids and passageways. A raptured gas main then later further fuelled the fire, which raged throughout the night.
At the height of the blaze, around 150 firefighters worked to bring the fire under control, using water pumped from the River Exe.
Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell said: "We're grateful no one has been hurt in this incident but the community has lost a historic building which is a landmark of the city.
"The fire spread was compounded by the nature of these ancient buildings and their construction with common roof voids which allowed the fire to spread unseen from the origin of the fire."
The emergency services are now expected to remain on the scene of the incident over the coming days.
Abode Exeter is one of five hotels within the Abode brand owned by Andrew Brownsword Hotels, which is also the owner of a further nine individual properties including Gidleigh Park and the Bath Priory.