FLAMES ripped through a convenience store after a suspected arson attack.
The Spar shop, in Padiham Road, Burnley, was gutted in the inferno.
Three staff were locking up when the blaze broke out at around 10.50pm on Sunday.
A teenager was rescued from the roof. Police closed Padiham Road for an hour and a half as fire crews from Burnley, Nelson and Padiham spent more than four hours tackling the flames.
Several residents were evacuated as there were fears the fire, fuelled by burning alcohol, could spread to neighbouring houses.
Lynne Garforth, whose daughters Sarah and Louise work in the store, which opened in 2001, said she dashed to the scene to see if the staff were ok.
Ms Garforth, 59, of Trinity Towers, said: “It’s really upset them.
“This place is a big deal for the community. It’s always busy, especially in the morning.
“I got a phone call saying that the fire was being talked about all over Facebook and came down to make sure the staff were alright.
“There are a lot of elderly people around here turning up wondering what’s going on. They can’t drive or make it to stores further away.
“Hopefully the staff get put in different shops.”
Valerie Smith, 71, who lives opposite the shop, had to leave her home for more than an hour.
She said: “There was quite a commotion. I was asleep so I had to get up and get dressed.
“There was a long line of people outside taking pictures and videos.
“It’s always been a very busy shop and I go every day.
“I get cat litter from there as I can’t carry it any further. I’m not sure where I’ll go now.
“It’s a big blow for the girls who work there, who are very friendly.”
And shocked shoppers spoke of their surprise when they arrived at the store yesterday morning.
Val Lievesley, 65, of Norfolk Avenue, said: “They have brilliant staff who are always really helpful and I’m very much going to miss it.”
Burnley fire station manager Steve Morgan said his crews launched a contingency plan known as Operation Merlin, used to clear an area when hazardous substances are at a scene.
He said: “We sent three pumps, two from Burnley and one from Nelson, as there were persons reported. On arrival a ladder was requested and a fourth crew was called from Padiham.
“Pretty quickly we realised the significance of what was happening and Operation Merlin was declared for one hour from 11.30pm.
“This was because there was a risk to the immediate vicinity, hence the evacuation of some households.
“With the wind blowing in the direction of Gannow Top and there being alcohol in the shop, we couldn’t risk the flames spreading to the houses.
“The appliances remained here until 3am and returned at 7am, with police at the scene the whole time.
“I’d like to thank the local community for their co-operation.
"We know it’s not nice to be disturbed on a Sunday evening but their safety was the priority.”
The store employs 15 people and is owned by Preston-based James Hall & Co, which operates 450 stores across northern England.
A spokesman said it was too early to estimate the cost of the damage but its long-term intention was to re-open the shop.
They said: “No staff or customers were injured following a suspected arson attack at our Padiham Road store in Burnley.
“This incident is now a police matter and we will be assisting them with their enquiries.
“Staff from the Padiham Road have been re-assigned to other stores for the duration of the store’s closure.”
The scene remained cordoned off yesterday while fire investigators worked with police to assess the remains of the building and collect evidence.