FIREFIGHTERS are still damping down at the scene of a major blaze in Wimborne town centre early today.

The alarm was raised at 2.36 am and a Wimborne crew arrived to find smoke and flames billowing from the first floor and roof space of an historic building in the Square housing the Albion pub, a travel agent's and news agent's shop.

Former mayor Anthony Oliver, who lives nearby, was one of the first on the scene.

He said: "I got a phone call from a friend to say there was a huge fire in the middle of Wimborne.

Footage and pictures by Simon Rowley

"My wife could see the smoke from our bedroom window. There was a great glow in the sky and when I got to the High Street it was chaotic. There were so many fire engines and a scene of devastation with flames rising from the roof.

"The fire crews did a splendid job containing the fire which was next-door to the Priest's House Museum.

"Fortunately that building was saved and no-one living in flats above the business premises were injured. It could have been so much worse."

The area remains cordoned off and an investigation has been launched into the cause of the fire while crews remain at the scene damping down the area.

James Webb, the assistant curator at the Priest's House museum, was among those who turned up to view the damage this morning.

He said: "We are delighted that the museum, which is partly of 16th century origin, has been saved because it houses so many very valuable and irreplaceable items."

The 17th century Albion, a former coaching inn, is the oldest pub in Wimborne. Martin's newsagent's housed the only post office in town.

A Dorset Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said the first crew called to tackle the blaze had been confronted by smoke and flames.

The incident commander immediately requested an aerial platform. At the height of the blaze 17 pumps and three specialist vehicles were deployed with six firefighters using breathing gear to douse the flames.

The spokeswoman added: "Business owners and the public are reminded to ensure they have working smoke alarms, an escape plan and close all doors at night. Businesses are also reminded of the need for good housekeeping."

Any clients of Saville Travel worried about their holiday can contact Ron Sanley on 01258 830473.