FIREFIGHTERS remain at the scene of a huge blaze that gutted an historic site in Blandford.

Plumes of black smoke could be seen for miles around as the Old Brewery burnt. The fire is so ferocious the building's gutters have melted and its windows have shattered.

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said although the affected building is next to the brewery, the main site has not been involved in the blaze.

At the height of the fire, 15 fire crews were in attendance from across Dorset and Wiltshire, together with two aerial ladder platforms and other support appliances.

Firefighters used 26 breathing apparatus and four main jets to fight the fire.

Firefighters were called to the vacant property shortly before 2.30pm on Tuesday. Despite the efforts of crews, the fire continued to rage into the evening.

The attendance was scaled back to ten fire engines by 8.30pm, and by 8am on Wednesday morning, there were three crews on site.

From 9am onwards, it is anticipated there will be two crews and an aerial ladder platform there to continue damping down and deal with hotspots.

Investigations into the exact cause of the fire continue, but it is believed to have started accidentally.

Electricity to nearby homes and businesses, including the Tesco superstore, was cut for several hours.

During the afternoon, police halted access to Bournemouth Road over concerns there would be a 'small explosion'.

A number of other agencies were involved including Dorset County Council, Dorset Police, the Environment Agency, and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks.

Area Manager Byron Standen said: “Our thanks go to the local community for their patience yesterday, when the smoke plume was particularly intense. It is now safe to open doors and windows in the vicinity of the fire.

"We are also grateful to the Hall & Woodhouse management, who provided refreshments to our firefighters and also ensured they had the right people on site to give us the information and guidance needed to bring this incident to a conclusion. We will remain on site this morning to ensure that the fire is fully extinguished.”

The Old Brewery was formerly owned by Hall and Woodhouse, and stands next to the brewery's visitor centre.

It was recently sold to the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA). The company will build a large housing development at the site.

Those living nearby were recently sent letters by company Hughes & Salvidge Demolition Services alerting them to a demolition process, which was due to begin on February 26 and take place over the course of 27 weeks.

Hall and Woodhouse managing director Anthony Woodhouse stood with colleagues in a nearby cul-de-sac as flames leapt from the warehouse.

He told the Daily Echo during the afternoon: "The fire appears to be confined to the warehouse.

"It's not our site - it's the old brewery, which we sold to HCA.

"It is, however, a big part of our history."

Mr Woodhouse said staff were alerted to the blaze by alarms. Everyone is safe, he added.

"The fire brigade, as ever, have done a completely fabulous job and were here very promptly," Mr Woodhouse added.

Resident Danny Scott, who lives near the entrance of the brewery estate, said: "I was putting my daughter to sleep when I heard alarms and people shouting as they left the site.

"I looked out and I could see this black smoke. I heard it started off as just a small fire and 30 seconds later it had taken hold."

Many Hall and Woodhouse employees, unable to return to work, visited The Stour pub. Although there was no electricity at the brewery-owned pub, landlady Erica Watt said all were welcome to drink by candlelight.

"There's no electricity, but we can still serve," she said.

"There hasn't been a fire like this in Dorset in a long time. It's very sad.

"There's so much history to the old brewery."

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service area manager Byron Standen warned of "significant amounts of smoke" and urged people living nearby to keep doors and windows closed.

Mr Standen said the building was "undergoing demolition". However, Tom Hustler of the HCA said contractors were at the site yesterday carrying out preparation works prior to a planned demolition of part of the site.

"There is no evidence to suggest the presence of the contractors caused the fire," he said.

"We haven't started demolition work yet as we are awaiting planning permission."

He added nobody had been injured in the blaze and firefighters had done "a great job getting the fire under control".

"We will aim to return to the site tomorrow to understand what caused the fire," he said.

Residents and Hall and Woodhouse employees stood and watched the building burn in near-silence. Others taking children home from schools in the town also stopped to see the fire.

One mum said: “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

“It’s absolutely out of control. I don’t know how they’re going to stop it getting to other buildings.”