RESIDENTS in Blackburn Road, Accrington, faced being evacuated from their homes on Monday when high winds ripped scaffolding off an empty church.
Witnesses said the 30ft scaffolding, which was put up on the Sacred Heart Church building after it closed down in July, came away and twisted in the wind for an hour before crashing down onto the road.
Police and fire crews cordoned off the scene, diverting the rush-hour traffic along Wheat Street and Tanpits Road, and plans were made to evacuate residents to Accrington Town Hall.
There were fears that the scaffolding could have fallen onto properties either at the side or directly opposite the church, which is currently being demolished, and residents were initially told to stay at the rear of their homes.
Naveed Hanif, of Monk Street, Accrington, said: "The scaffolding was twisting at a 90-degree angle and it took about an hour to come off completely. If it had fallen the other way, the houses next to the church would have gone."
Another witness said: "I thought there had been a crash at first because the roads were blocked off. The scaffolding turned and a big piece came flying off - it could have hit someone."
Inspector Phil Cottam, of Accrington Police, said they were alerted by a passer-by, and residents had already stopped passing traffic before his officers arrived to set up a diversion.
He said: "We were at one stage considering evacuating a number of houses, simply because of the strength of the wind and the height of the scaffolding - it was unclear just how far it would fall. Provisions were put in place and we were in the process of getting the evacuation going when the scaffolding collapsed on to the road. Luckily, no-one was hurt."
He added that workers from a construction company cleared the scaffolding away after it collapsed at 4.15pm, and the road was re-opened by 5.45pm, causing rush-hour disruption to motorists and bus services.
Sub-officer Tony Spencer, of Hyndburn Community Fire Station, said: "The scaffolding had come away from the front of the building by approximately 10ft and the more the wind blew, the worse it got.
"There wasn't a lot we could do - we couldn't get anyone to make it safe and we certainly couldn't use any of our equipment. We were fortunate it came down in a straight line and no damage was done to the properties."
- Fire chiefs branded the church a "death trap" last week after arsonists targeted the building for the fourth time in two months.
The latest blaze started in the accommodation block behind the main building last Thursday and 25 firefighters were at the scene for three hours.
Children were blamed for starting the fire and police have spoken to the demolition contractors working at the church about tightening security.