A huge fire which has devastated the historic Accrington Conservative Club overnight is suspected to have been arson.
The blaze at the derelict five-storey building prompted a firefighting response of eight fire engines and crews in addtion to two Aerial Ladder Platforms and a Command Unit and crews from Blackburn.
There were no casualties and the fire is believed to have been started deliberately.
Firefighters from across Lancashire have been tackling a large fire at the former Accrington Conservative Club.
Fire crews and police were called to Cannon Street in the town centre at around 3.50am on Wednesday morning.
Lancashire Police said the cause of the fire is not yet known, however they have not ruled out an arson attack.
Among residents evacuated was Alice Cross, who has lived behind the Conservative Club for nearly 50 years with her husband Francis.
The couple were evacuated by police and have been waiting in the Tesco extra cafe to hear when they can return.
Alice said: “About 4.15am we were woken by the police banging on our door.
“It’s very shocking what’s happened. Somebody must have set a fire. It’s not the first time it’s happened
“The last big one was on the day the Queen came.
“It needs to be pulled down. I’ve been praying for something big like this so it can come down.”
Francis said: “we have been pestering for years for something to be done about it.
“The front part is listed but the back part is an eyesore.
“I remember when it used to be a dance hall and one of the biggest Conservative clubs in the country. It had a beautiful ballroom and it’s sad to see what it’s become.”
Martin Heys, a partner at Woodcocks Haworth and Nuttall solicitors on Cannon Street, said he found out in a phone call at about 4.30am this morning.
He said: “There was nothing I could do so I came down about 7.30am. I was just relieved that no damage has been caused to our building.
We can’t go back in until the building inspector has been. We have been told the road could be closed for a few days.
“There is only one way the building can end now. It has got to be pulled down.
“It’s been derelict for a long time and an accident waiting to happen.”
Jill Dwyer, manager of Little Oaks Private Day nursery on Cannon Street, said they are still open.
She said: “I only found out what happened when I got here this morning spoke to the officer in charge and was told it is safe to open.
“We are telling parents to keep their phones on in case anything changes bit so far it’s not had too much impact.
“It was a big shock to see what happened and really upsetting too.”
Earlier Gary Hargreaves, Hyndburn fire station manager, said they got the initial call out at 3.45am.
He added: “There is severe damage to the building which was previously used as a Conservative Club. Firefighting is still in progress.
“Crews will remain here throughout most of the day.
“There are road closures on Paradise Street and Cannon Street and they will be in place until a local building inspector assesses the stability of the building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation by ourselves and police.”
The building is currently derelict and has been subjected to numerous fires in recent years.
Former firefighter Elliott Anderson, from Accrington, said: “It’s a real shame as it is a great architectural building. The whole roof has collapsed through the top floor and the wood and rafters on other floors have been damaged. It will probably have to be demolished, which is a great shame.”