ROUGH sleepers had to be woken by firefighters after a large blaze broke out just metres from their tents at the Occupy Homeless Sanctuary.

The fire took hold at the coal yard in Ashley Road, Boscombe shortly before 8am on Saturday. Squatters were evacuated, and no injuries were reported.

However, the fire has sparked concerns about the safety of those living at the site.

Andrew Sprong, owner of the Little Pickle Deli Cafe in Boscombe, saw smoke rising as he drove past and stopped to see if he could help.

"The fire engine pulled up as I arrived," he said.

"There wasn't a panic, but the firefighters were trying to wake people up and get them out of their tents.

"Some clearly weren't aware there was a fire."

Mr Sprong said he was worried the fire could spread.

"I don't think it's a safe place - there aren't any facilities for the people living there," he said.

"It's a dangerous place for these people, but what choice do they have? It also could be dangerous for people living nearby.

"The site is surrounded by bushes and shrubbery. What if the fire had spread?"

The blaze is not believed to be suspicious. A kitchen area and store room based in a temporary building were badly damaged.

One supporter called the incident "soul-destroying", and said she was "shocked" at the extent of the fire, which resulted in all cooking facilities being damaged beyond repair.

Boscombe councillors Chris Wakefield and Jane Kelly told the Daily Echo they are worried about the welfare of rough sleepers using the site.

"I am really concerned about the general safety of people living on that site, and this incident just confirms that it is not a safe place to stay," Cllr Wakefield said.

"I am, of course, extremely pleased to hear no one was hurt.

"I hope the homeless people living at the site continue to engage with the council's outreach team so the council can help provide them with support and appropriate accommodation.

"Help is available for those in need."

Cllr Kelly said campaigners for Occupy had initially called on the council to provide them with a temporary settlement.

"Members of the group believed that was the way forward, and the council should have created something like that site," she said.

"However, that wouldn't happen because of the health and safety implications, as we see here.

"I am very glad no one was hurt.

"I believe the owners will soon reclaim the site as they've been granted an injunction."

A spokesperson from Dorset Police said: "We were called just before 8am by the fire service.

"The fire was not malicious. It was a large fire and there was concern for those staying at the site."

A spokesperson for Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said two crews were called to the scene at around 7.50am.

“We extinguished a single-storey structure that was on fire,” they said.

The owners of the site, Brightmark Ltd, have been granted an eviction notice. The sanctuary moved onto the area in early January.

It was previously based on privately-owned land opposite the BIC in Exeter Road.