OWNERS and customers of an iconic pub and neighbouring restaurant watched on in horror as a ‘massive’ fire destroyed them both.
Around 60 firefighters tackled the blaze at the Dressers Arms and Little Hong Kong restaurant in Briers Brow, Wheelton, which broke out at around 5.30am yesterday.
Two residents at the pub escaped unharmed and adjoining cottages were evacuated as the fire service used six fire engines to prevent the flames spreading to nearby homes.
Such was the intensity of the fire that teams of firefighters piped water to the scene from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal more than half a mile away.
The pub’s landlord, Steven Turner, watched on with neighbours as the extent of the damage to the pub, which dates back to the 1700s, became apparent.
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And restaurant owner Dave Catterall, who runs Little Hong Kong - above the pub - with wife Lorna and daughter Holly, said: “We’re devastated and distraught to see this. Everyone has worked hard to build the business and to see this happen is heartbreaking.”
The fire service said there had been no reported injuries.
The cost of the damage to the premises, on the A674 between Blackburn and Chorley, is expected to run into hundreds of thousands.
Briers Brow resident Ian Grundy praised the work of fire crews who he said had ‘performed heroically’ to stop the fire spreading further.
He said: “There was a loud knock on the window at around 5.30am. It was a fireman telling me to get out.
“Once outside I didn’t think it would be that serious but then the pub burst into fire with flames coming through the roof.
“The teams did a brilliant job to contain it and stop it damaging any of the cottages.”
Residents were allowed back into their homes at around 9.30am.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue group manager Tony Crook led the emergency services operation.
He said: “When the first crews arrived they were confronted with a very severe situation. It was a massive fire.
“The wooden beams of the roof were exposed and were burned through.
“The flames were coming out of the roof of the pub and the first job was to establish a reliable water supply which was done by attaching a hose to the canal, which is some distance away.
“The efforts to contain the fire were very successful and that saved a number of the adjoining stone cottages from being destroyed.
“We are unsure at the moment how it was caused but a full investigation has begun.”
Fire crews from Blackburn, Chorley and Bamber Bridge attended.
Pub regular Steve Calderbank, 49, from Whittle-le-Woods was one of those stood in the car park across the road from the pub watching the drama unfold.
He said: “I was only in the other night for a few drinks. It was a cracking pub. There’s nothing like it around and it’s very upsetting to see .
“It was really popular and always had a good friendly atmosphere with a lot of people travelling for the food.”
Jason McHugh, 46, was also a regular drinker at the Dressers.
He said: “This is a nightmare. One of my favourite drinking dens has been destroyed.
“It’s a black day for us pub goers.”
In the immediate aftermath of the fire a team from Greater Manchester Fire Service launched a flying drone above the pub which can shoot video and provide a live feed of ‘hot spots’ and remaining areas of fire from the air.
The technology has been on trial there since April 12.
Greater Manchester is the only fire service using a drone operationally in the UK and it was the first time the technology has ever been used in an incident in Lancashire.