A BLAZE in a double-decker bus caused traffic chaos on one of Dorset's busiest roads this afternoon.
The bus, operated by Morebus, formerly known as Wilts and Dorset, burst into flames on the A338 northbound out of Bournemouth at 1.20pm, and five passengers were led to safety by the driver.
Although one lane of the carriageway opened around an hour later, many motorists travelling towards Ringwood have been facing huge queues trailing back past Cooper Dean.
Despite the severity of the blaze, which gutted the bus, no injuries were reported.
See how the drama unfolded in our live coverage here
Fire investigators believe the cause of the inferno is an electrical fault.
Adam Hall, 27, drove past the burning bus before Dorset Fire and Rescue crews arrived.
He said: “I couldn't see any people on the bus, but I did see what I thought might be the driver and a passenger standing about 20 to 30 feet away from it.
“It was so intense that I could feel the heat from the other side of the road.”
Craig Spriggs, who works at the In-tune MOT Centre in Matchams Lane, next to the scene of the blaze, saw the drama unfold.
He said: “I just saw it all going into flames and the tyre blew up with a big loud bang.
“I think the fire brigade got there before the fire got to the back of the engine.
“There was lots of black smoke, it was drastic-looking. It’s completely crumbled.”
A Dorset Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said three crews from Ferndown, Christchurch and Ringwood dealt with the blaze wearing breathing sets.
A passing ambulance also stopped to ensure there were no casualties.
Allen Westerby, watch manager at Christchurch Fire Station, commanded the scene.
He said: “We were called to a double-decker bus on fire on the northbound carriageway of the A338.
“It’s very badly damaged. There were five passengers on board, plus the driver. They were fine.
“The fire cause is being looked into and it could be an electrical fault, but the bus has been badly damaged and it needs to be recovered before an investigation can be done at the depot.
“We had to make sure that the people were safe.
“The driver did do some first aid fire-fighting with a fire extinguisher, but his priority was the passengers, especially with such a busy road.”
Ed Wills, operations director for Morebus, commended the driver of the bus on the x6 route from Bournemouth to Verwood, who pulled over when he heard a noise coming from the nearside of the vehicle.
He said: “The driver pulled over to investigate and the discovered smoke and fortunately evacuated the passengers before the fire enveloped the double-decker.
“The bus, which is written off, will now be subject to a full investigation in conjunction with the manufacturer. The five customers were safely picked up by helpful passing motorists and the police.”
Staff at Bournemouth Airport were warned of potential disruption to flights as a result of thick plumes of smoke spiralling into the air, but no planes were affected.