A FAMILY firm with a 90-year history in Nelson has been devastated by a major fire.

Walter Lambert and Sons, a well-known coffin makers based in Edgar Street, was engulfed in flames.

Parts of the historic former mill site were so badly damaged that they will now have to be demolished.

And a shortage of coffins is also expected as a result of the blaze.

Police and fire investigators are now attempting to discover whether the firm was targeted in an arson attack or if the blaze started accidentally.

More than 40 firefighters from across East Lancashire tackled a ‘severe fire’ at Walter Lambert and Sons in Edgar Street, off Leeds Road, just after 3am on today.

Nearby homes were temporarily evacuated after flames ripped through stored timber at the 100-metre long complex.

And staff at a nearby care home in Juno Street were placed on alert to move residents as the fire raged through the single-storey building.

Part of the structure is now in the process of being demolished after it was surveyed and ruled unsafe by building inspectors.

Steve Kennedy, a group manager with Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said when initial crews arrived on the scene it was quickly realised that more resources were needed.

Eight appliances, a turntable ladder, mobile fire station and the brigade’s hazardous materials unit were deployed at the scene.

Mr Kennedy added: “We had quite a severe fire that was rapidly developing so resources were quickly increased.

“We contained the fire to around two-thirds of the building. But there was an awful lot of fuel inside, with it being a timber yard.

“Initially we had to proceed with caution because we did not know if there was any hazardous materials inside either.”

Building control officers inspected the site this morning.

David Lambert, principal building control officer for Pendle Council, said: “It’s vitally important that we make sure the building is safe as quickly as possible.

“The owner has agreed to arrange for part of the building to be demolished and security fencing to be put up around the site to keep people out.”