TESCO Express in Popley will remain closed for a ‘short period’ while repairs are carried out following a major fire there last night, the supermarket chain has confirmed.

The fire at the store on Carpenter’s Down occurred at 7.50pm yesterday evening (March 15), and eight engines with approximately 30 firefighters from Basingstoke, Odiham, Tadley, Hartley Wintney, Alton, Kingsclere, Overton and Rushmoor scrambled to the scene.

The station manager on the scene told the Gazette that there was ‘significant damage’ to the store as a result of the fire, but that no one was hurt and nearby businesses unaffected.

This afternoon (March 16), a number of staff members were sat outside the store, informing customers of the closure.

The store manager, who did not want to be named, told the Gazette that a security team would be on-site, and that he would soon be handing over to a “project team” who would assess the damage and estimate time-scale for repairs.

He confirmed that the fire, caused by a refrigeration unit, had risen into the loft, causing damage to the cladding and parts of the ceiling to collapse.

He added that an investigation would follow, but that all stock inside the store would have to be “written off” due to smoke contamination, and that all electricity to the building has been switched off, meaning the cash machine outside is also currently out of order.

With the smell of smoke still lingering in the air, and damage clear on the building’s exterior, the employees said they were anticipating being moved to work temporarily at other Tesco stores. They said their store is one of the most-used in the area and will be a loss to the community, so they hope it will be back up and running soon, but believe it will be “at least a few weeks”.

The manager, who was not in the store at the time of the fire, said the shift leader on duty did a “very good job” of evacuating the premises, adding that the fire was detected by both sound and sight, and reported automatically by the fire alarm, and via telephone.

He said: “It was amazing how big the fire crews that responded to it were, and how quickly they responded.”

A Tesco spokesperson said: “Our Popley Express store is currently closed following a fire yesterday evening and we’re very sorry for any inconvenience for our customers.

“We can confirm no one has been hurt or injured and would like to thank the fire brigade for their quick support. We’re working hard to reopen as quickly as possible for our customers although we expect to remain closed for a short period of time while repairs are carried out.”

The company added that it will be conducting a full investigation into this incident and, while it is not possible to give an indication of a reopening date at this time, it will keep the community updated when it knows more.