A 400-year-old hotel that was said to be housing Ukrainian refugees was among buildings engulfed by a fire in Midhurst, West Sussex.
The fire was thought to have broken out shortly after 1am on Thursday at a property on North Street before spreading to the roof of the Angel Inn next door.
Local resident Hilton Holloway, who witnessed the fire, told the PA news agency around 30 people, including some children, were evacuated from the hotel.
“There were a number of Ukrainian refugees in the hotel, which had around 15 rooms,” he said.
“I spoke to one young woman who seemed relatively calm.”
Photos and video taken by Mr Holloway, who lives opposite the hotel on the town’s main street, showed the spread of the fire from an adjoining building to the roof of the Angel Inn.
A local charity helping Ukrainian refugees has begun accepting donations to aid those affected by the fire.
Andrew Ashton-Smith, a sales engineer from the nearby town of Petworth, volunteers at Petworth Ukraine Relief and told PA that the local community is “rallying together” to provide aid for the Ukrainian refugees who were evacuated from the hotel.
“We’ve been helping Ukrainians since the start of the war, gathering aid and shipping tonnes and tonnes of stuff from West Sussex to Ukraine,” said Mr Ashton-Smith, 44, who is friends with a number of Ukrainians affected by the fire.
“We will dip into what we’ve already collected to help the Ukrainian refugees.
“It has been a harrowing set of events for them, particularly as some have been faced with seriously war-torn arrangements to start with.”
“It’s why we’re here rallying and pulling together as a community to see what we can do to help them.”
The sales engineer, who has a daughter who attends school with some of the affected Ukrainian children, said he feels shocked by the event but he is focused on helping those in need.
“I feel shocked, but more keen to try and make sure that we can do all we can to help the Ukrainian families here as some of them have children,” Mr Ashton-Smith said.
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services called the fire “significant”. Ten fire engines, an aerial ladder platform, water carrier and off-road vehicle initially responded to the incident.
Shortly after 6am the fire service said the incident had “escalated” and 15 fire engines were on the scene tackling the blaze.
“Over 30 people have been evacuated from the building and firefighters are working hard to bring the fire under control,” West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services said.
Speaking from the scene, area manager Richard Abbot advised commuters North Street would remain closed and asked the public to avoid the area.
“It is too early in the incident to know the cause of the fire, however we will be investigating as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.
A spokesperson for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service said: “At 1.08am we were called to reports of a hotel fire at North Street, Midhurst.
“Due to the significance of the fire, Joint Fire Control mobilised 15 fire engines, two aerial ladder platforms, two water carriers an off-road vehicle and high volume pump to the scene.
“More than 30 people, including a number of Ukrainian refugees, were safely evacuated from the buildings, and they are now being looked after in a local relief centre.
“A number of crews remain at the scene and are working hard to extinguish the fire which spread to adjacent properties.
“We anticipate that North Street will remain closed for some time, so we would ask that residents avoid the area and use alternative routes.
“The cause of the fire remains under investigation by fire investigation officers and Sussex Police.”
Sussex Police, which sent officers to the scene, warned road closures would be in place in the local area.
A spokesman for South East Coast Ambulance Service said that four people were treated at the scene but did not require hospital treatment.
He said: “I can confirm ambulance crews, including our Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) attended the scene alongside fellow emergency services.
“Four people were treated and all were discharged at the scene. While the majority of our resources have left the scene, a small number remain to support the fire service.”
Coun Eileen Lintill, leader of Chichester District Council, said the occupants were being looked after at the authority’s rest centre.
She said: “Earlier this morning (1.08am on March 16) there was a significant fire at a hotel in North Street, Midhurst.
“All occupants were safely evacuated by West Sussex Fire and Rescue, and they are now being cared for within our rest centre.
“This must have been a terrible ordeal for those affected and our thoughts are with them. Our staff are currently doing everything they can to support them.
“Local residents are being advised to keep their doors and windows closed, due to the smoke that is still in the area.
“At the time of publishing this statement, North Street is closed and so people are being advised to avoid this area and find alternative routes.
“I would like to thank the fire crews for their exceptional work in safely evacuating the residents from the building, and our staff who quickly organised the rest centre for those who are affected.”
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