A BOAT was gutted in a fire which caused an explosion, witnesses said.

People said they heard a bang and screaming coming from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Nelson at around 2.20am today, where the pleasure craft was completely engulfed in flames.

When crews arrived, two lifejackets were found on the tow path near Scotland Road and a couple of mooring spikes were also discovered some distance away. It is believed the boat may have been drifting for some time.

The metal hull of the craft remained unbreached, but a specialist environmental response unit was alerted.

A search of the area was carried out and firefighter Dean Bradshaw said it was likely the screaming came from geese.

He said it was possible that the diesel tanks were set on fire deliberately.

Firefighter Bradshaw said: “The boat was popping and fizzing when we got there. It was completely gutted, it is an empty shell now.

“A full investigation of the incident will now be carried out by the fire service in conjunction with Lancashire Police.

“It is early stages, but I would say that it was potentially started deliberately because of the fact that there was nobody with the boat.

“Part of our investigation is to look at some CCTV.

“The incident comes just two weeks after Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service had been conducting a boat safety campaign highlighting safety issues and offering free advice to boat users.”