AROUND 100 firefighters spent the night battling a huge blaze at Ferndown Common.

The fire broke out at around 6pm. At its height, plumes of smoke could be seen for miles around. Residents heard a loud roll of thunder before the fire broke out, leading some to speculate a lightning bolt may have caused the blaze.

At one point it was feared flames could reach local homes.

Fifteen fire engines, six heavy off-road appliances, eight Land Rovers, two water carriers and a command unit rushed to the site.

People were urged to keep away from the area as the direction of the fire quickly changed.

However, by 9pm the crews appeared to have the blaze under control. One firefighter searched for hotspots from a police helicopter.

Simon Blaxall, who lives nearby, said: "I heard a huge thunderclap and then a plume of smoke went up straight away, which makes me think it could be lightning."

Ann Hill, of Mountbatten Drive, said onlookers in cars had blocked the road to fire engines.

As a result, residents including Keith Ingram and Lauren Griffiths manned a cordon at the end of the road to ensure only firefighters could access the scene.

Mr Ingram said: "We phoned the police and asked if they could help with traffic, but we were told they'd only do that if requested by firefighters, so we're out here doing it ourselves.

"I've never seen quite so many fire engines in one place. It's been an amazing response. It really shows the strength of the community around here too. Everyone's pitching in to help."

Sean Patrick, who lives in Trickett's Cross, joined Jason Grant to help keep members of the public safe.

The two men, who hadn't met before this evening, donned high-visibility jackets and stood near the entrance to the King George V Fields to help direct off-road fire vehicles.

Sean said: "We're just helping out where we can."

"We've been giving the firefighters water - I just think you've got to help out where you can," said Jason.

Staff at Tesco in Ferndown also delivered water to fire crews.

There is currently no official confirmation as to the cause.

A spokesperson for Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said Hampshire Fire Service had also been called to help out.

Ferndown Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is an internationally important example of European Lowland Heath.

The 76 hectare nature reserve is home to some of the rarest wildlife in the UK.

Fire crews are expected to be on site well into the night and will continue firefighting at first light.

Group manager Dave Graham, Incident Commander at the incident in Ferndown said: “We continue to advise the public who live in the area to keep windows and doors closed.

"I would advise anybody who doesn’t live in the area to avoid Ferndown Common.

"We have had a number of members of the public who have attended the scenes of fires today in order to spectate.

"Some people have put themselves in dangerous positions in order to get a good picture and if the conditions should change, they could find themselves surrounded by fire very quickly.”