SCORES of fire-fighters were tonight battling a major blaze in Basingstoke.

Residents had to be evacuated from their homes after a fire broke out on a site in Gershwin Road, in Brighton Hill, at about 6.20pm at the site of the former Beech Down Primary School.

A shroud of black smoke and 30 foot flames spiralled into the air as the fire took hold.

Around 30 people from Gershwin Road and the nearby Lehar Close had to be evacuated from their homes while firefighters tackled the blaze at the construction site.

The four-storey building, earmarked as sheltered housing for the elderly, was timber clad and measured 100 metres by 200 metres.

Police officers also put a 100metre cordon around the site, which included the ASDA supermarket car park in Brighton Way, after concerns about swirling winds and tall cranes on the building site.

An emergency shelter was also set up at the Loddon Vale Indoor Bowls Club.

Steve Rose, 44, of Quilter Road, said: “I just had my dinner and I was putting the dishes in the dishwasher when I smelled burning and it got really dark.”

Stuart Campbell-Smith, 50, of Chopin Road, was coming back from shopping in Andover when he saw the drama on the horizon.

He said: “There were big flames in the distance. It looked like it was coming from Down Grange and as I got closer I realised it was near my house and I could see all the fire engines.

“There was a crowd at about 7pm of least 200 people by the cordon.”

At 10pm, Sergeant Shaun Stinson, from Basingstoke police station, told The Gazette: "At the moment the fire brigade is going to let it burn out with controlled damping down.

"We do not know how it started but fire investigation teams are here to try and establish that."

He added there were no reports of injuries.

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See Monday’s Gazette for full report and pictures.