HOMES were evacuated after a gas main blaze was discovered in a behind houses in Rishton.

Approximately a dozen homes were evacuated after the gas pipe was found ablaze to the rear of Knowles Street, Rishton.

Police officers also alerted staff at nearby Rishton Methodist School to be ready in case they needed to leave the area.

The incident is being treated as suspicious.

One crew of firefighters was initially called out to the incident near the junction with Walmsley Street, believing they were attending a telephone pole on fire in an alleyway. On reaching the scene, firefighters realised the area smelled strongly of gas.

Police officers and a second fire crew soon joined them on the scene.

Officers evacuated homes in Knowles Street and Edward Street at 1.30pm yesterday as the National Grid worked to isolate the gas leak.

Crew manager Lee Cook said: “At first sight it did look just like a post on fire, and it was only when we got quite close to it you could smell the gas.

“At first we tried to keep the pipe burning to prevent it creating a gas cloud that could be ignited by some other source.

“However it was a windy day and when it was blown out, we realised people needed to be evacuated.”

He added: “We are treating the fire as suspicious, given that we couldn’t find an ignition course close to the external gas main.

“We are keeping an open mind about what potentially could have happened to the house, which we believe was unoccupied and due to be demolished.”

He said national grid engineers had been to the site to cap the supply, feeding some unoccupied properties. Residents were back in their homes by 4pm.