A SMOKE bomb is thought to be the cause of a fire which tore through the gorse on the East Cliff on Saturday afternoon.

Firefighters spent hours at the scene battling the blaze, smoke from which was visible on the other side of the town.

Police are treating the blaze as suspicious. 

@LaurenDailyEcho @SandyRashty @NPASBournemouth @BBCDorset East Cliff Bournemouth Fire accelerating rapidly - first at scene! pic.twitter.com/PcFGk2NnvM

Footage by Amit Katwa

Beach goers reported seeing a cloud of bright yellow smoke engulf the bottom of the cliff by the beach huts, after which the fire caught and quickly ignited the cliff face.

Fire crews were called shortly after 3.30pm, with four pumps and the aerial ladder platform dispatched to deal with a tricky location.

East Overcliff Drive was cordoned off by police, as was a section of the promenade around the blaze where firefighters set at work.

The fire was extinguished at around 7pm.

Bournemouth Echo:

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: "Dorset Police is currently assisting the fire service following a fire along the cliffs on Undercliff Drive in Bournemouth.

"The fire is at East Cliff between Pier Approach toward Boscombe pier.

"Officers have set up a cordon and assisting the fire service who are tackling the blaze.

"A section of the promenade has been evacuated as a precaution. There have not been any reports of any injuries.

"We advise people to avoid the area while emergency services deal with the incident."

The seafront team from Bournemouth Borough Council also helped to keep crowds at a safe distance.

On one of the hottest days of the year so far, the beach was inundated with visitors flocking to enjoy the sunshine.

As the fire was brought under control many went about enjoying their day on the beach, although the situation was more dramatic when the blaze began.

Among the beachgoers was Ivor Baker, 49, from Portsmouth, visiting with his wife Tracey, 54.

"The fire started behind one of the beach huts, where there is a sandy bank," he said.

"It went right the way up the cliff straight away. I could hear it ripping through the bushes.

"There was no panic, everyone went to take a look.

"There was a yellow flare before it started.

"There was a scream and the smoke went up the cliff. The fire started immediately after that."

John Farr, 40, on holiday from Slough, said a yellow smoke bomb had been the cause, and he had been told by another beach goer it was thrown behind a beach hut by a child.

"It was a yellow bomb, I saw a load of yellow smoke and thought what's that.

"It caught fire and just went up.

"Someone said they saw a child chuck it in there. The smoke was going everywhere, it was awful."

Mr Farr said many beachgoers rushed over to investigate the fire.

"Everyone came to watch it, standing right in front. I thought I had better stay away here on the beach."

Bournemouth University student Jack Durham, 23, of Charminster, also saw the smoke while enjoying the beach with a group of friends.

"It was a yellow smoke bomb, it started to go grey, then when we turned back around there were flames," he said.

"Everyone rushed over, the people closest were running to get water.

"It didn't feel like we were in any danger, but if the wind was blowing the other way it could have been different."

Council leader John Beesley said: "I would like to thank Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service for attending the fire so quickly.

"I must also thank our Seafront Rangers, who did a fantastic job ensuring the emergency services could access the scene of the fire, acting quickly to help cordon off the area, close the East Cliff Zig Zag and direct beach goers away from danger.

"We will work with both Dorset Police and the Fire Service to establish the cause in due course."

Cllr Pat Oakley, newly appointed cabinet member for leisure and toursim, said he was at the seafront when the fire took hold.

"The seafront staff reacted very quickly," he said.

"No quicker than we saw the smoke the fire brigade was there. It could have been quite dangerous because it fired up quite quickly.

"There is a suspicion that someone had thrown something into the gorse.

"It could have been very, very dangerous. It is very lucky that there was such quick action by the seafront team and the fire crews."

Detective Constable Steve Cartwright, of Bournemouth CID, said: "An investigation into the circumstances of the fire is underway and we are treating it as suspicious.

"I would appeal to anyone who may have witnessed any suspicious activity in the area around the time of the fire to please contact police."