FIREFIGHTERS searching a former pub for homeless people who may have been trapped inside had to dodge used needles and other drugs paraphernalia.

The blaze was at the former George Inn off Darwen Street, Blackburn, at around 8am this morning.

There were initial fears that homeless people could have been trapped inside the building.

Firefighters completed a full search of the property and found nobody inside. Paramedics were waiting on standby but were not required.

The blaze is being treated as suspicious as firefighters found a number of ignition points. The fire service and police are set to complete an arson investigation.

One room on the ground floor was severely damaged and the rest of the building was smoke damaged.

Acting watch manager John Riley said: "We were called to the old George Inn, Weir Street, Blackburn, at around 8am.

"On arrival police were already in attendance and told us the building was frequented by homeless people. 

"Four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus carried out a full search of the building but we found nobody inside. 

"The team inside also found gas cylinders and evidence of drug use, including used needles. That made it more difficult for the team to do their job.

"We found a few different origins of fire so we definitely think it is suspicious.

"The main fire was in an old store room near to the toilets which caused quite extensive damage to the adjoining room. Luckily the other fires which were lit hadn't got hold. Otherwise the whole building would have gone up.

"The police have arranged to get the building boarded up and secured."

Police had closed off Weir Street to allow firefighters to extinguish the fire and carry out the building search. 

A police spokesman said: "We were called at 8.30am this morning to a fire in an abandoned building. Eyewitnesses reported seeing smoke coming form the windows."

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101.