More than 40 firefighters tackled a huge fire which has destroyed the inside of a disused church in Preston.
People living close to the former Spiritualist Church on Moor Lane, close to the University of Central Lancashire, had to evacuated from their homes shortly after 11pm on Monday as flames leapt from the roof of the building.
Watch manager Gary Kiyani, of Preston fire service, said demolition crews were due at the building on Tuesday and it is expected to raze the building.
It is not expected anyone living close to the former church will be allowed to return home before Wednesday.
Watch manager Kiyani said he believed the fire has been started deliberately in the building, which has been plagued by vandalism in recent years, and an investigation is now underway.
He said: “When we arrived at the building there were already flames coming out of both the ground floor and first floor buildings, so our main priority had to be to get people out of neighbouring buildings.
“In some cases there is just two or three feet between the old church and some of these buildings, which are mostly student houses, and there was a lot of concern over the fire spreading to these buildings.”
He said there were around 50 people evacuated from buildings, including one elderly lady who had to be helped from her home on Moor Lane.
A UCLan spokesman confirmed that 12 students were evacuated from a private halls of residence close to the building in the early hours of Tuesday.
She said: “The students were given emergency university accommodation overnight.
“We are continuing to offer support to those who were affected by this incident.”
Crews from the seven fire engines in attendance then dampened the building to prevent the fire from spreading.
Watch manager Kiyani said: “It is testament to the work of the crews that there was very little damage to any neighbouring building.”
A building inspector was on scene at 2am on Tuesday and all of the timber beams in the disused building have been damaged leaving crews to fear it would collapse.
Demolition crews are due on scene later on Tuesday and are expected to have to demolish the building “piece by piece”, according to the fire chief.
Watch manager Kiyani added: “An investigation will now take place between the fire service and the police, but it is reasonable to say that the cause was likely to be deliberate.
“The building has a history of vandalism and people breaking in and squatting and, while we do not believe there was anyone in the building at the time we arrived, we are treating the fire as suspicious.”
Moor Lane remained close on Tuesday morning although the Adelphi roundabout close to the scene is still open.
Video courtesy of Joe Stashko (Blog Preston).