INVESTIGATIONS are underway today to find out the cause of a huge fire which completely destroyed a former mill.

A blackened shell is all that remains of the three storey Vernon-Carus Mill, Johnston New Road, Hoddleston, which has lain derelict since its closure in 2003.

Fire crews from across East Lancashire were drafted in to fight the inferno, which came just hours after a Burnley mill was also devastated in a blaze.

An investigation has now been launched by police and Lancashire Fire and Rescue but a cause has not yet been found due to the intensity of the fire.

The entire building, which is a well-known hot spot for youth disorder and vandalism, was well alight when crews arrived at 8.20pm on Saturday.

Eight fire engines and the fire service’s specialist Urban Search and Rescue team, who are trained to find and rescue unreported people from multi-storey buildings in danger of collapse, were called to the scene.

The team used special equipment to scour the building looking for trapped people within, but found no-one in danger.

Fire crews from Accrington, Blackburn, Darwen, Rawtenstall and Nelson battled the fire throughout the night using jets and the aerial ladder platform to extinguish the blaze.

Mobile fire stations were also set up to co-ordinate the operation throughout the night and on into the following day.

On Sunday, a handful of remaining firefighters were at the scene making the area safe and completing checks and investigations.

The fire was finally extinguished at 11am but fire crews returned to make further safety checks at 2pm and 6pm.

Crew Manager Lee Cook at Darwen Fire Station said: “Originally there were only two pumps from Darwen sent to the fire, but the scale of the fire soon became clear.

“Other fire crews were drafted in and we made use of the specialist rescue unit, who serve Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

"This team have specialist training, equipment and vehicles to rescue people from confined spaces, move rubble and stablise buildings.

"Fortunately they were not needed.”

The building has been a concern to police, councillors and local parents for a number of years as children took to using the derelict site as a playground.

Over the past three years, as the site has changed hands, there have been repeated calls for it to be renovated to remove the danger from the area.

The renovation of the mill into sheltered housing was a dream of late councillor Fred Slater, and looked set to become a reality after site owners McInerney Homes released plans of a development in January.

The developers said they would convert the mill into apartments, sheltered housing and offices - naming the sheltered housing section in honour of Coun Slater.

His daughter Julie, who has followed in her father’s footsteps as borough councillor for East Rural ward, said: “It is an eyesore, it has been a magnet for all sorts of vandalism as well as serious fly-tipping and it poses a very real danger to children in the area.

“Everyone in the area has been asking for this site to be dealt with.

"I suppose the credit crunch hasn’t helped, but we need McInerney Homes to either develop the site, landscape it to make it safe or to sell it on.

"We had expected families to be living on the land by now.

"It was an accident waiting to happen and it needs to be dealt with.”

Vernon Carus was formed in 1971 by the merger of Hoddlesden-based Alexander Carus & Sons and Vernon & Co.

In 1993, the firm, which made healthcare products, closed its Hampden Mill site in Darwen and ten years later revealed it was also to close its Hoddlesden site.